SOURCE ALERT: UM Law Professor Speaks Out on Killings of African-Americans by Law Enforcement

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Donald Jones

Donald Jones

The United States has experienced a rash of tragic killings of African-Americans by police over the past several years. Two incidents have occurred in the past 24 hours and were captured on cell phone video by bystanders. In the shooting death of Alton Sterling, the Baton Rouge Police Chief has handed over the investigation to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. In Baltimore, six police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray; one trial resulted in a mistrial, one officer was found not guilty by a judge in a bench trial, another was acquitted of all charges. The trial of another officer begins today.

University of Miami School of Law constitutional and criminal law Professor Donald Jones discusses the uptick, problems in prosecution, and impact on communities. Jones is the author of numerous books on the civil and political rights of minorities including Sex, and Suspicion: The Myth of the Black Male, Fear of a Hip-Hop Planet: America's New Dilemma, and the soon-to-be-published Dangerous Space: Beyond the Racial Profile.

Jones is a highly sought after expert and is available for print and broadcast interviews. 

What are the ramifications of the Baton Rouge police asking for the Justice Department to conduct the investigation into the death of Alton Sterling? 

Bystander video shows Alton Sterling being shot by police while he is prone on the ground with no weapon in his hands. On its face, this raises the question whether his federal civil rights to equal protection of the laws has been violated by officers acting under color of law. But in the first instance, it raises the question of whether a culpable homicide was committed against a local citizen. It is customary for the local police to begin their investigation autonomously. That the inquiry has been turned over to the Justice Department represents a needed intervention. 

Why did the Baltimore police indictments result in no guilty verdicts?

Fear of crime still coats the streets of urban areas like Baltimore. Baltimore has had a record year in homicides – the deadliest in its history. The mainstream more than ever buys into a law and order narrative. To convict a law-enforcement officer for excessive force under these circumstances one needs evidence that is black and white. In the case of Freddie Gray, there were only shades of gray.  Compounding this, Freddie Gray had a long criminal record. The average middle-class person, black or white, would not identify with him. Finally, respectfully, the officers were overcharged. The charge should not have been murder but manslaughter.

What measures need to be enacted to halt these deaths?

Police have shot 550 people in the past year or so. Only one officer has been indicted; none has been convicted of murder. The lack of convictions has created the outlines of a crisis of confidence in some sects of our society, especially among blacks. The intensity of this groundswell of public concern is reflected not only in demonstrations but in the social media
 
The Obama administration is acting swiftly to reassure the public that an impartial investigation will get to the truth and that justice will be done. 

CONTACT: Catharine Skipp at 305-773-5801 or cskipp@law.miami.edu