In U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison's rambling commentary Dec. 11 ("No more business as usual, please") mostly related to the Jamar Clark case, readers were left wondering: What is justice? Is justice for Ellison having the police punished whether or not their actions were justified?
Ellison says justice can be provided by " … reforming the grand jury process for officer-involved shootings …" But rather than offering suggestions for "reforming the grand jury process," he says we should do away with that process completely for officer-involved shootings because it seldom results in indictments of officers.
Could this failure to indict be the simple result of a fair and just process that found the officers involved had been forced by circumstances to act with always-unfortunate but sometimes-unavoidable deadly force? This happens from time to time in the dynamic, sometimes violent world of enforcing the law, where criminals — with or without guns — create life-or-death scenarios for the police to resolve, oftentimes within seconds.
Ellison suggests that, rather than using the grand jury process, the prosecutor could simply charge the case. That is certainly an option. But what if the prosecutor, after reviewing all of the evidence, does not believe the case supports prosecution? Should he charge the case anyway to appease the community? That irresponsible act would then pass the buck to a judge and jury, who would be trying a case that had no merit, where they would then be forced to find the innocent cop, well, innocent.
At that point, in Ellison's world, it presumably would be the judge and jury who would need to be "reformed."
Ellison also suggests that a special independent prosecutor be used, and offers as an example the Tycel Nelson case, in which attorney Billy McGee was appointed special investigator to prepare the case for the grand jury. This example doesn't really work for Ellison because the grand jury still opted not to indict. I guess just the appearance of going beyond the normal course of justice should appease the community since our system of justice is so flawed.
That Ellison wants to change the criminal justice system to get the kind of justice that can only be won by finding an officer guilty, regardless of the evidence, seems a bit unjust. It seems his desire to revamp the law so that officers who shoot minorities are punished and removed from service is an impatient response to a tragedy that may require some time to adjudicate. Shouldn't Ellison be more interested in the truth than in prosecution at all costs?
Ellison ended his piece by citing Clark's family: " … They made it clear though their grief that they do not want his death to be in vain. They want to move our community forward." Can the community move forward only if the officer is found guilty of murder? What if he was justified in using deadly force? Can the community move forward then? Or will the justice system remain flawed as Ellison suggests?
Of course, no one wants the death of a loved one to be in vain, or worse yet, for a loved one to be killed as a result of his or her own criminal behavior. While I sympathize with the Clark family and any family whose loved one is violently killed, I urge Ellison and everyone who is concerned with the result of this case to be patient and allow our justice system, with all its flaws, to work.
Somehow our natural desire to seek truth has become obscured by an assumption, by some, that the police always respond in a biased, brutal way to minorities. Rather than finding truth, we seek retribution.
What if Jamar Clark went for the officer's gun, as the officer has stated, and the officer was forced to use deadly force to defend himself or someone else? I'm hoping Ellison could make peace with that finding if it is reached through the normal process of law. But I doubt it.
Justice can only be found in truth, yet people can always hold onto their assumptions.
Richard Greelis, of Bloomington, is a retired law enforcement officer, teacher and author.