Our View: Bias in the American indictment process

Campus Carrier Editorial Board

This past August in Ferguson, MO, black teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson. Most Americans already know this as the case got national attention. The incident has also brought up several issues that have garnered explosive attention on social media. Some of these issues include police militarization, racism in news coverage, police privilege, and indictment.

More recently on Monday, Nov. 24, a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. Indictment is charging someone of a criminal offense. In other words, the jury chose not to charge Darren Wilson with criminal offenses in the shooting. This decision has a country divided and has caused mass protests nationwide both online and on the streets.

Indictments are not rare. Five Thirty Eight reports that of over 160 thousand federal cases in 2010, only 11 of the cases were not indicted. This makes sense as what the grand jury seems to be deciding with indictment does not even involve whether the person is guilty or not. They are just deciding whether the case should go to trial.

Another interesting fact about indictments is that the grand jurys seem way less inclined to indict police officers. The earlier Five Thirty Eight article cite an example in Harris County, Texas. There police officers have not received an indictment since 2004. Five Thirty Eight argues several possible explanations for this phenomenon including juries feeling more trusting towards police officers, prosecution bias, and media pressure on the prosecution to bring police cases to trial despite substantial evidence.

Despite any of these explanations, we may be looking at a major problem. If we have a built in institutional bias to favor police officers, as statistic suggest, then we have a system that is wide open to wide spread corruption. Now, I am not saying that all police officers are bad. I genuinely believe that many police officers get up every morning, put on their badge, and try to help people.

However, in the eyes of the law, nobody’s profession should matter. The law is supposed to be fair and just and justice is blind. In a fair courtroom, a drug addict can win a case against the president if the evidence supports the addict. The moment you step into a courtroom, all your profession should become is circumstantial and a possible cause for motive. Your profession should not be a legal carte blanche; no matter who you are.

That is why it is so disturbing that the people who are supposed to be supporting the law may be open for such an unjust circumvention of it.

The Ferguson case has opened the nation’s eyes to a number of issues that would have barely brushed the media’s gaze a year ago. It will not and should not be forgotten any time soon, so we should learn from it. We now are aware of issues we should deal with both as a nation and as individuals. Hopefully, our nation can heed Ferguson’s warnings before we are forced to watch them repeat.

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