Juries in recent days have acquitted two more cops involved in controversial fatal shootings of black men. One criminologist says jurors are reluctant to convict: “They just don’t want to second-guess officers in those life-or-death decisions.”
Why are convictions so rare when police shoot and kill unarmed black people? The Associated Press says experts cite a confluence of factors, including racial bias, attitudes toward law enforcement and the challenge of showing precisely what an officer was thinking in a high-pressure situation. In the end, many jurors are simply reluctant to reject the accounts provided by police. “They just don’t want to second-guess officers in those life-or-death decisions,” said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. “They think, ‘What if that was me? What if that was my child who was the police officer?’”
A jury last week acquitted the Minnesota officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, whose girlfriend livestreamed the moments after the shooting on Facebook. On Wednesday, jurors acquitted a black police officer of first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of a black Milwaukee man who threw away the gun he was carrying during a brief foot chase after a traffic stop. Meanwhile, a jury in Cincinnati is scheduled to deliberate for a fourth day Thursday in the second trial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati officer charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed black driver in 2015. The AP says several factors work against the prosecution or conviction of officers, including the difficulties of proving intent. Self defense has become a template strategy, with officers saying they feared for their lives.