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The Killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown

A grand jury last month declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. This past Wednesday, a grand jury in another case (this time in NYC) declined to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who applied a chokehold on Eric Garner. Garner later died.

Two cases aren't enough to call it a pattern, but some sources are raising the issue that (1) it's exceedingly rare for grand juries not to indict and (2) when they choose not to, they do so when police officers are the ones on the hook.

Ben Casselman on FiveThirtyEight writes that it's "incredibly rare" for a grand jury to do what it did in Ferguson. Casselman references judge Sol Wachtler's "ham sandwich" remark. A prosecutor, if he or she wanted, could indict a ham sandwich, which implies that the Ferguson prosecutor should have been able to get his indictment. In the Garner case, even Fox News' Bill O'Reilly gave the passive admission that "excessive force may have been used" and the grand jury's decision may have been wrong.

Protests in both cases show the frustration people are feeling over officer-perpetrated killings. In the Ferguson case, people may never know the truth of what happened, because the case will never go to trial. But in the NYC case, with video, the truth is a bit more plain to see, and still the grand jury did not indict.

Both of these cases raise significant questions. Here's one: How do we hold police officers accountable when they cross a line that should not be crossed? This is not just a question of criminal justice, but of civil rights that should be protecting our citizens against the state's abuse of authority.

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