On Jan. 6, a Texas grand jury indicted the state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland last July for perjury in filing his arrest report but not for his treatment of Bland. The Chicago-area woman was pulled over for not signaling a lane change and later found dead in her jail cell. In December, the grand jury declined to hold anyone responsible for Bland’s death.
The decisions bookend an Ohio grand jury’s refusal to indict the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park. Grand juries indict in almost every case they consider — except for cases against police officers. It is time to abolish the jury system that time and again lets killer cops walk free.
Police in the United States kill far more people than those in most other countries. And the killings, non-lethal shootings, beatings and other abuses by law enforcement disproportionately target blacks and Native Americans. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice: the litany of names goes on and on, some nationally known and others remembered only by their families or communities. Even as members of the Black Lives Matter movement protested the grand jury failures in Texas and Ohio, Chicago police shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier, an emotionally disturbed 19-year-old college student home for holiday break, and Bettie Jones, his neighbor and a 55-year-old mother of five.
As journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates trenchantly argues in a Dec. 30 Atlantic column, the legitimacy of the U.S. policing and criminal justice system is at stake. When police kill or abuse their power and communities demand justice, prosecutors often hide behind the cover of the grand jury system.