April 10th, 2015
The shooting of Walter Scott by police officer Michael Slager is being well chewed over. (So much so that the New York Times devoted half of it’s above-the-fold front page to it yesterday. Which seems like reasonable news judgment only if you’re working from a pretty ugly agenda.)
What strikes me about this shooting is that from an institutional perspective, the worst part of it isn’t the actual shooting. It’s the planting of evidence and attempted cover-up.
I’m willing to believe that cops can make honest, but terrible, errors in judgment when it comes to lethal force. (This case seems not to be one them, mind you.) You can see how, when confronted with split-second, life-and-death decisions, even good cops can make the wrong call.
But then Slager goes from killing a man to calmly planting evidence and then making a radio call lying about what just happened.
This proves that the shooting isn’t just bad judgment and an illegal use of deadly force, but an act of corruption. And public corruption is like plagiarism and adultery–almost nobody does it just once. (Slager’s speed and relative calmness also suggest that he’s used to not being strictly truthful.)
If I was the DA, seeing Slager plant evidence and lie about this murder would make me open up every case he’s ever been involved in. And it would make me very interested in what other officers in the department knew about Slager and what they did (or didn’t do) over the years in regards to him. Did they try to get rid of him? Did they turn a blind eye? Did that aid and abet?
But then, as Connor Friedersdorf has written, union policies make it hard for management to get rid of bad cops even if they want to.
Exit question: If Rand Paul was serious about criminal justice reform, then instead of making ludicrous statements about repealing any laws that create a disparate impact, he’s start with reforming police unions and then work his way up the chain from there. Because that’s where criminal justice reform has to start: You clean up law enforcement first, then work on prosecutorial mismanagement, and then you look at the actual laws on the books once they’re being properly and judiciously enforced.
But of course, Rand Paul doesn’t really mean “criminal justice reform” when he talks like that. What he really means is “weed!”
That said, is there any reason that the serious candidates couldn’t make criminal justice reform a component of their pitches, starting with police unions? Conservatives are for law and order, but they’re also distrustful of the government and especially public-sector unions. I suspect we may have reached a point where it’s safe to treat police unions the way they do teacher’s unions.
(Which, by the by, might be better than they deserve. Bad teachers don’t actually kill people.)
1) If you’re a James Ellroy fan, none of Slager’s actions are surprising at all. (actually more horrific as you realize how spot on Ellroy is about the law enforcement world: His LAPD characters do these things as a matter of course)
2) Re: disparate impact, JVL have you read any of John McWhorter’s recent stuff? He makes the best drug war critique I’ve seen.