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Police Officers Must Be Held To Higher Standard Of Conduct

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Police Officers Must Be Held To Higher Standard Of Conduct


The omnipresence of video cameras hasn’t restrained the impulses of violent police officers, it seems, but cameras have at least repudiated the narratives that have saved so many police from prosecution. In several cases, video footage has offered a truth that defies official justifications for savagery.

Because he was wearing a body camera that contradicted his account (stunning, yes, that he was aware he was being recorded), Ray Tensing has been charged with murder in the July death of Cincinnati motorist Samuel DuBose, whom Tensing, then a University of Cincinnati police officer, had stopped for a traffic violation. Tensing claimed that he shot DuBose because he feared for his life, but the footage doesn’t appear to show him in any danger.

Yet, the decision by Tensing’s superiors to prosecute him merely lays bare the remaining inequities in a criminal justice system that is by no means just. It is quite rare for police officers to be convicted and sent to prison for their unjustified violence, no matter the evidence against them.

(Indeed, it is still quite rare for police officers to be charged in the deaths of civilians. So far this year, 558 civilians have died at the hands of police, according to The Washington Post, which says that officers have been charged in only four cases, all of which were captured on video. In three of the cases, the victims were black, while the officers were white. In the fourth, the civilian was also white.)

Indeed, the criminal justice system is one of the last bastions of blatant racism, a pastiche of prejudices, wrongheaded stereotypes, and all-too-human assumptions. The implicit and explicit biases that color black people as dangerous and anti-social tend to let police officers, especially white officers, off the hook. Their crimes often go unpunished.

Perhaps you remember the trial of four Los Angeles cops in the brutal 1991 assault on Rodney King. Videotaped by a passer-by as they repeatedly beat and kicked a prostrate King, they were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. Yet, none were convicted in a Simi Valley courtroom.

Two of the four, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, were later convicted after federal authorities charged them with violating King’s civil rights.

Still, U.S. District Court Judge John Davies was clearly sympathetic to the two men, saying that King had “contributed significantly to provoking the offense behavior.” While they faced up to 10 years in prison, he sentenced them to 30 months.

Now fast-forward a quarter-century. In May 2015, Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, who is white, was acquitted of manslaughter in the 2012 deaths of an unarmed black motorist, Timothy Russell, and passenger, Malissa Williams. After other officers had ceased shooting and Russell had stopped his car — he had led the officers on a high-speed chase — Brelo jumped onto the hood of the vehicle and fired 15 shots.

The U.S. Department of Justice, by the way, considered that case when it issued a report that found the Cleveland Police Department had engaged in a long-running pattern of unnecessary force. More than 100 police officers pursued Russell’s vehicle because they believed they heard gunfire coming from the car, but Justice found it likely that the car had backfired.

Nevertheless, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell ruled that the “state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Michael Brelo, knowingly caused the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.” (O’Donnell presided over a bench trial — or trial without a jury.)

Law enforcement defenders would undoubtedly note that neither Rodney King nor Timothy Russell was a paragon of virtue. Both motorists failed to stop their vehicles, choosing to flee police. Their conduct was clearly wrong.

But neither King nor Russell took an oath to protect and serve. Neither man was given the badge and gun that ought to suggest a rigorous moral code and a significant degree of restraint.

In other words, police officers should be held to a higher standard of conduct. And if they behave like murderous thugs, they should be treated as such. Until they are, justice remains tantalizingly out of reach.

(Cynthia Tucker Haynes won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Pete via Flickr

Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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  1. jif6360 August 1, 2015

    Restoring justice is simple.

    With an undeniably dysfunctional government, We the People need to set aside our political differences. It should no longer be a simple matter of the left versus the right; the people need to understand that the reality of our situation is that it is the people versus the state regardless of their political affiliation.

    “2016: All Lives Matter” is a propaganda statement that the government is manipulating to distract from the truth that our government bullies its citizens and the rest of the world without having any regard for the criminality of its actions. It reflects poorly on all Americans when our representatives are acting in such a dishonorable manner. Public officials have become very effective at distorting the truth. For example, they have manipulated the people into believing that you are failing to support your troops if you are unwilling to support the war that our troops are being forced to fight. In recent years, this has allowed the government to launch wars for political reasons without having to worry that it will inspire mass protests in the United States. 98℅ of all the deaths that have been inflicted by our military in these latest wars have been innocent civilians. It is despicable that we are willing to accept so many civilian deaths and label it as necessary collateral damage when it should more accurately be described as terrorist attacks. When one considers these facts, it should be no surprise that so many terrorist organizations are seeking to destroy our nation. There is no difference between the bombings that terrorists are responsible for and the drone strikes that kill innocent civilians in the Middle East. Both sides have deemed it acceptable to take civilian lives to further their agendas. Our government have become just as repugnant as these terrorist groups. America is supposed to be the greatest country in the world but we are tainting our great legacy by sinking to the level of terrorists and killing in such indiscriminate fashion. Life has no meaning to most politician. The politicians who care don’t have the backbone to stand up for the people.

    Another issue in 2016 will be gun control. However, neither side wants this issue resolved as there is too much money to be made by both sides as long as the status quo remains the same. They are simply using this issue as a tool to keep the people divided. Do not let the issue of gun control decide your vote; the number one issue in 2016 should be restoring justice and the voice of the American people. It is only when our voice can be heard that there can be true freedom and justice in our great nation.
    Please support the petition that I will be posting at the end of August. A link will be provided to the petition when it has been finalized. There will be a rough draft to follow shortly.

    July 31, 2015
    First draft of petition to be posted on We The People. This petition will need your support and a heading.
    Any comment or suggestion can be posted on http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1259363

    Points of fact: In 1872, the Supreme Court overruled its earlier doctrine and announced that judges would not be liable even for malicious or corrupt acts. Under the doctrine of judicial immunity, a victim can be forced to bear the full burden of a serious, irreparable injury inflicted by a state-court judge in blatant violation of the Constitution. This decision offers a road map for corruption with total impunity. The Supreme Court has made it quite clear that judges can be corrupt. Judicial immunity has created monsters and the federal government should take responsibility for their creation.


    1) If a corrupt or inept judge erroneously determines a case doesn’t have the merits to go to trial, the plaintiff should have the right to proceed to a trial by jury by paying a reasonable fee.

    2) There are two entities that should have jurisdiction in all matters: the US Supreme Court and a jury. Therefore, any case questioning jurisdiction would go before a jury. This would eliminate many appeals thereby decreasing costs and giving the average person the ability to seek justice from objective citizens instead of potentially biased judges.

    3) Cameras should be set up in all public hearings and closed session hearings should be eliminated in order to decrease the opportunities available for government officials to make self-serving backroom deals that thwart the pursuit for justice

    4) Placing cameras in our court room will also allow corrupt or inept judges to be exposed. Then, judges that are found not to be adhering to civil procedures or case law could be removed from the bench.

    The issues that I have just presented are not unreasonable in any sense of the word; they are based solely on common sense and would ultimately aid in restoring justice to our government.

    The path to freedom can be as easy as demanding that the issues I have presented be put on a state referendum so that the people can vote on them. Restore the people’s voice. Don’t continue to let the politicians gut us of our rights.
    In 2016 cast a vote that counts, vote out all the incumbents in congress.

    1. idamag August 1, 2015

      Why you are so bullied and afraid of your government, you can’t even say anything against it. You might even end up in a political concentration camp and be sentenced to forced labor.

      1. jif6360 August 1, 2015

        I served 20 years in the military and believe this country is worth fighting for. Please tell me are my demands unreasonable. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Although two rights rights make an airplane.


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