Double Standards for the Police

Radley Balko has a new blog that is being hosted by the Washington Post.  Balko, who was formerly at Reason and the Cato Institute, writes about issues of prosecutorial and police misconduct.  His stories are extremely interesting and unfortunately don’t get all that much play at right wing sites, although he does have readers on the left (as evidenced by his former association with the Huffington Post).

Recently, Balko discussed the double standards used by prosecutors to review police shootings as compared to shootings by private citizens.  Here is an excerpt:

This week, the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that it won’t be filing charges against Brian McGee, the Torrance officer who rammed Perdue’s truck, then opened fire on him. The DA found that McGee made a “reasonable mistake,” even though Perdue is white and Dorner [the suspected cop killer] was black, and Perdue’s truck wasn’t the same color as that reported to have been driven by Dorner.

Part of the reason why McGee’s actions were deemed reasonable is that just blocks away, seven LAPD cops had just fired 100 bullets at a truck driven by Margie Carranza and her mother, Emma Hernandez, thinking they were Dorner.

It’s certainly understandable how police on heightened alert for a suspected cop killer might be a bit nervier than usual. That doesn’t excuse unleashing swarms of bullets at innocent people. To contrast, consider a drug suspect who wakes up to a midnight drug raid. Maybe the police have made a mistake, and this particular suspect is innocent, in which case he’d have no reason to suspect the home invaders might be cops. Maybe the suspect is actually a drug dealer, but mistakes the raiding cops for a rival dealer. The latter is of course less sympathetic. But in both cases, the suspects have every reason to be anxious and afraid. And in both cases, it would be understandable why they might want to defend themselves. In both cases, the decision to do so would be an honest mistake. Both of these scenarios have happened, numerous times. And in both scenarios, the suspects are almost always charged with one or more felonies, whether or not police subsequently find any significant quantity of drugs. If they kill a cop during the raid, they’re going to be charged with murder.

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.  His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, will be published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

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