(ANTIMEDIA) No matter how one feels about police brutality, it is a fact that cops are rarely indicted when accused of murder and violence. This became crystal clear in the lack of indictments in the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and John Crawford last year. Less than 2% of New York police officers are indicted for similar killings.
So what does it take for a brutal cop to actually earn an indictment (which does not even declare guilt)?
Enter New York Police Department Officer Joel Edouard.
He made headlines last summer (days after Eric Garner’s murder) for stomping on the head of 32-year-old Jahmiel Cuffee, who allegedly possessed a joint of marijuana. The video evidence clearly showed Edouard kicking the handcuffed Cuffee. After it went viral, Edouard was placed on desk duty and this week, he was indicted by a grand jury for his actions. He is charged with third-degree assault, third-degree attempted assault, and official misconduct. All three are misdemeanors.
Normally, such an act of violence would be dismissed by the justice system, but several factors likely contributed to Edouard’s indictment (bear in mind that there are undoubtedly other reasons, but the following are the most glaring):
First, the victim, Cuffee, was not guilty of the marijuana charge leveled against him by officers at the scene in Brooklyn. The justification for Edouard’s brutality was that Cuffee was spotted throwing away a joint, which was never found.
Unfortunately, the average American’s sense of justice has been diluted by the “good guy vs. bad guy” mentality that the government has propagandized both in law enforcement and foreign intervention. In the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, cop apologists argued that the victims deserved what they got because they were breaking the law. As one popular cop-produced t-shirt said, “Breathe Easy, Don’t Break the Law.”
As a result of this skewed vision of law and order—that if you break any law, you deserve whatever punishment the police give you— people are quick to assume that if someone was brutalized, they asked for it. This was not the case with Cuffee, who came to be charged with tampering with evidence (that didn’t exist), obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest. The charge he was beaten for however, was false, so juries felt safe admitting Edouard might have been to blame.
Second, Edouard, like his victim, is black. Edouard’s indictment is not so much a matter of racism within the police force (though many claim it exists). Rather, it is a sign of broad, institutionalized racism, often committed by jurors themselves. It is a fact that African-Americans are more likely to be convicted in courts due to jury prejudice and that jury selection can often be racially biased. Apparently, race lines run deeper than the thin blue one, and Edouard has taken the heat for it.
Finally, and most vital, the assault offense Edouard sustained is a misdemeanor. With that title comes a less severe punishment and less potent stigma. Grand juries, who notoriously side with cops, likely feel more comfortable charging an officer with a “small crime” than admitting he or she may have done something more serious.
Rather than accepting that police officers are capable of committing grave injustices and felonies, declaring a misdemeanor charge is less daunting and less damning. It’s okay to acknowledge that an officer may have made a mistake while performing his violent job description. It’s less acceptable that he may have abused his badge so seriously as to cause death: if an officer killed someone, there must have been a reason (again highlighting the distorted good guy vs. bad guy dichotomy). People are far more comfortable punishing a good, old-fashioned beating caught on video.
Obviously, any indictment of an officer who has committed wrongdoing is laudable, regardless of their race. It is a small move in a positive direction to reprimand an officer for hurting a non-violent, “law-abiding” citizen. Nevertheless, it is a sad testament that so many variables are required for a jury of citizens to accept that an officer may have done something wrong.
Edouard plead not guilty to his charges on Tuesday and was released without bail. He is due back in court on March 24.
(*It is notable that many police officers have in recent months and years been indicted for crimes involving extortion, narcotics and rape. Assault and murder indictments and charges are far less common, though not impossible to attain).
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