When Justice Doesn’t Satisfy

Posted on March 28, 2016 in Justice

The Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn

The Louis H. Pink Houses in Brooklyn

Two cities: Brooklyn, New York and San Francisco.

Two shooting deaths.

One common element: police officers fired the shots.

In the Brooklyn case, a police officer was convicted by a jury in February of second-degree manslaughter. He fired his weapon inside a residential building and the bullet ricocheted and killed a bystander, a man who was visiting his girlfriend.

The Brooklyn district attorney asserted, and a jury affirmed, that “an innocent life was taken recklessly and unnecessarily” and the officer “also failed in his duty to aid [the victim] once he realized [the victim] was gravely wounded.”

In his sentencing recommendation to the presiding judge, the DA said there was no evidence that the officer intended to kill or injure the victim, and called for a sentence of five years probation, six months home confinement with electronic monitoring, and 500 hours of community service. No prison time.


Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco

In the San Francisco case, four police officers shot and killed a man who, the officers claimed, refused to obey orders to show his hands and drew and pointed a weapon at them. All four officers believed their lives were in danger and fired at the victim until his head and weapon went down. 59 shots were fired, 10 struck the victim.

The weapon in question turned out to be a Taser shock gun, which the man used in his job as a nightclub security guard. The San Francisco County district attorney’s investigation concluded the officers reasonably mistook the Taser for a pistol, and no charges were filed against them.

The family of the shooting victim subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of San Francisco, which accused the officers of using unreasonable force. A jury ruled on March 10 that the officers did not use unconstitutional excessive force.

Two cities. Two shootings. Two deaths. One conviction, one declined prosecution.

Was justice done? Were things made right?

Would you reach a different conclusion given more details about each case?

  • Brooklyn: Chinese-American rookie police officer patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses, considered the worst housing project in Brooklyn. 28-year-old African-American male victim. African-American prosecutor who concluded his sentencing recommendation with “There are no winners here.” Jury members divided over the DA’s recommendation, saying, “What was the point of prosecuting him? What did we do this for?”, “Wow. Is this right? That’s ridiculous,” and “He is doing his job and I can’t question him.”
  • San Francisco: The man shot by the four police officers is Mexican-American and had a documented psychiatric history of “aggressive and bizarre behavior, auditory hallucinations and noncompliance to psychiatric medications.” The lead officer among the four, a sergeant at the time, has received three medals of valor from the San Francisco Police Department. The incident took place in a park in The Mission, San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood, historically Mexican-American, experiencing rapid gentrification from Silicon Valley wealth.

Two men dead. Two divided communities. Two unsatisfactory outcomes.

New York Times reporter Alan Feuer, in his story about the Brooklyn case, wrote, “If the best settlements are those in which each side leaves unhappy, then it could be that [the DA] has himself emerged a winner…near the end of the sort of polarizing police misconduct case that can define a district attorney’s career.”

“There are no winners here.” – Brooklyn, NY District Attorney

Winning and losing isn’t the point.

Accountability and punishment are not the endgame of real justice, but a means to restoration. Real justice seeks to restore what has been damaged, in these cases the families of the dead, the police officers involved, and the communities in which the shootings occurred.

Nothing can bring back the men who were killed. But something can be done to restore trust in the police and heal the wounds and divisions in the communities.

We are all stakeholders.