|Progressive Prosecutors Need Help to Hold Rogue Cops Accountable
by Jamala Rogers
When St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell announced that there would be no indictment of Ferguson cop Darren Wilson for the murder of
Michael Brown, there was some outrage. But I believe it was mainly confusion and disappointment. For many, the historic election of Bell as the
county’s first African American prosecutor would mean real justice for Mike Brown’s family and a grieving community.
Bell never ran on the promise that he would open the Wilson case, but he clearly understood the issue would hover over his administration until he
squarely confronted it. Quietly, Bell opened up his investigation shortly after he established his Conviction and Incident Review Unit. He made a
surprise announcement shortly before the 6th anniversary of Brown’s murder and after privately sharing his findings with Mike’s parents and their
The investigation resulted in not enough evidence to make a criminal charge of murder or manslaughter. The part about proving beyond a
reasonable doubt is always the obstacle. And for police-involved criminality, it stops even the most astute prosecutor from moving on indictments
and convictions. This fact was underscored by the Department of Justice investigation in 2015 when Attorney General Eric Holder admitted the high
bar his department faced in its desire to charge Darren Wilson.
I have been working on police murder cases for a long time. I have sat in court rooms across this country helping communities to fight for justice
and seek charges of killer cops. Prosecutions of cops are rare and even if you get one in court, convictions are even more difficult. I often describe it
as “the police lobbyists have already been here.” The highly organized
groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police associations
usually get what they want from politicians.
These blockers make sure data on citizen killings is not collected, that laws
are in place to make it impossible to fire, charge, indict or prosecute police,
and that makes suing police complicated. In short, holding police
accountable has been made difficult because their lethal actions are
deemed legal. State and the U.S. Supreme Courts have been co-
conspirators in shielding police from prosecution.
While tens of millions of dollars are paid out by cities or police
departments, this does not affect the individual pockets of a cop or a
department’s budget. The big pay-outs have not deterred aggressive
behavior of police to pull the trigger. Blacks have been killed by police at
disproportionate rates, their deaths almost always ruled as justified. Juries
are usually reluctant to ignore the “feared for my life” rationale police use to
deflect their guilt.
Studies by the Police Integrity Research Group has estimated 1,000 deadly
shootings a year in the U.S. The Group reports that only a fraction of those
cops will face murder or manslaughter charges. Even fewer will ever face
conviction. The depressing reality is that communities victimized by police
violence don’t have a clear understanding of the labyrinth of laws and
policies that keeps justice at bay and ties the hands of even the most
The inability of prosecutors from the Eric Holders on a federal level to the
Wesley Bells on the local levels to charge and convict police must become a
priority for the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies. On the way to
defunding the police, we must unlock the doors protecting rogue cops or
knock down the doors. If we want this new breed of prosecutors to be
successful in their prosecutions, tax-paying communities much give them
the necessary tools.