Thursday, November 27, 2014

Darren Wilson and cop culture

A narrative has developed among those who think Darren Wilson should have been prosecuted for shooting Michael Brown. The narrative gets its force from Wilson's testimony to the grand jury that ultimately decided not to prosecute him. Wilson repeatedly characterized Brown as a threateningly large menace who put the officer in fear for his life.

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall distilled the essence of this narrative as well as anyone. He mentioned a possibility I hadn't considered but which on reflection I should have: Wilson might be temperamentally unfit to be a cop.

A lot of the police-brutality cases over the last five or so years suggest Wilson isn't alone. That, in turn, raises a question that Marshall didn't ask but that Radley Balko did in the Washington Post in September, long before the Ferguson grand jury's decision: if Wilson and other trigger-happy guys shouldn't be cops, doesn't that mean something is wrong with the departments hiring them?

Balko writes specifically about one infamously out-of-control officer (whom Marshall also cited in his piece), but the point obviously applies generally:

If Groubert’s actions were due to poor or inappropriate training, poor hiring practices by the South Carolina state police, or a police culture that conditions cops to see every interaction with a citizen as potential threat, sending him to prison isn’t going to change any of that. Individual cops who abuse their authority should certainly be held accountable, and a system that consistently held them accountable would be something of a deterrent. But focusing only on the individual cop in a case like this lets the police agency that hired and trained him off the hook.
Exactly. This is very likely bigger than Wilson or Groubert.

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