With Authority Comes Great Responsibility

Thinking Man believes that police and other law enforcement deserve the benefit of the doubt, very generally speaking. They are responsible for public safety, and do a job that requires them to make split second decisions and to put their lives on the line if those decisions are bad.

The converse of that is that with that deference comes a special responsibility, and being held to a higher standard of integrity and conduct. When law enforcement officials do wrong, they should pay.

Unfortunately, such was the case recently when the Police Board in Chicago found that four officers had covered up a white officer’s 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17 year old black teenager. The nine-member board found the officers exaggerated the threat posed by the 17-year-old McDonald to justify his shooting by Jason Van Dyke and voted to fire the officers.

Video evidence shows that the shooting—18 shots fired—was different than Van Dyke reported. Officer Van Dyke was convicted by a jury and is serving a 6 year sentence. A Cook County judge acquitted three other officers in January of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct charges in the case.

Although the victim was high on PCP at the time, the video shows that the threat that he posed was very different from that described by officers and the Police Board, although limited in what it could do, acted where the justice system left much to be desired. Van Dyke’s sentence was far too lenient and the other officers got off light.

For the victim’s family, there is much tragedy to bear. However, the biggest problem in this case, apart from the travesty of justice, is that it causes people to question that law enforcement applies the laws equally. And regardless of whether the motive in this case was racially based or just an attempt to cover up a gross and appalling overreaction, it feeds feelings and perceptions of racial injustice. Society suffers far more because of what the Police Board says these officers did, than what was suffered in this specific case. And that is why police should be held to an absolute standard.

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