Do Public Figures Prematurely Shape Public Opinion?

Do initial public comments by public figures prematurely shape public opinion, specifically incidents involving the deadly use-of-force by law enforcement? The recent and still ongoing trials of six police officers indicted in the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, is a great case in point.

On June 23, 2016, a Baltimore judge overseeing the trials acquitted Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was driving the transport van in which Gray allegedly sustained fatal injuries to his spinal cord. Gray died one week after being arrested on April 19, 2015. Goodson became the second officer in the case to be cleared. Officer Edward Nero was previously found not guilty of reckless endangerment and assault during a second trial. This was on the heels of the first trial ending in a hung jury.

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The judge indicated there was not enough evidence to prove that Officer Goodson provided a “rough ride” for Gray who was not seat belted in while handcuffed inside the van. Witnesses testified that Gray began screaming and kicking so violently that he shook the van prior to being transported.

These acquittals throw the rest of the cases into question since the remaining officers are charged with similar but lesser accusations. Demonstrations have occurred outside the courthouse as many expressed frustration at the not-guilty verdicts. Others are calling for the remaining officers to have all charges dropped.

Ironically, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby drew widespread praise and condemnation after charging the six officers in May 2015, with murder and manslaughter charges within weeks of Gray’s death. Civil rights activists praised the prosecutor for swift and comprehensive action. This action was after demonstrations had occurred in Baltimore against police brutality, which were violent at times, and included rioting, looting, and arson after Gray’s funeral.

This is one of several recent incidents, including the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, where activists cheered the quick action of state officials. As you may recall, that incident in Ferguson resulted in violent protests that included vandalism and looting for more than a week and ended the career of Officer Darren Wilson, even after he was cleared of civil rights violations and credible witnesses and forensic evidence corroborated his account. Now in this particular case involving Gray, some activists and legal experts are suggesting that Mosby acted too quickly and did not leave enough time for a thorough investigation.

Also, at the time of this writing at least two reports, which have not been confirmed to my knowledge, have surfaced indicating that Mosby had made some incriminating public statements regarding her true intentions for filing charges so quickly against the six officers and revealing some personal prejudices. She is also being accused of a rush to judgment, making false statements, withholding evidence from the defense that was exculpatory, and is possibly the subject of disbarment charges filed against her.

In an earlier article I addressed the subject of accountability by law enforcement and the public, including public figures, leaders, activists, and celebrities. I made the following general statement in the article, which was titled, “What’s Wrong with this Picture?”

Initial public comments call in to question and assume the officer did something wrong, but the final results of the investigations, even when there are grand jury reviews and a coroner’s report, usually conclude in a finding to the contrary. This displeases many who can’t accept the facts of what actually occurred. Many people are outraged and want to hear the officer was wrong, since they have been told from the beginning to believe he or she was wrong.  Much of this comes from our leaders, activists, and politicians when they are interviewed in the media.” To see this entire article please go to my blog/recent posts on my website-http://www.billcweiss.com.

Public figures who knowingly speak without the facts, either due to public pressure, or who try to capitalize on a situation for their own interest, create an environment of false expectations and anger. This develops into situation where the public, who was made initially to believe something otherwise, can’t handle the truth when the final investigations conclude differently. This is extremely dangerous.

Why not hold these public figures accountable? #freddiegray, #baltimoremaryland, #lawenforcement, #publicaccountability, #policecommunityrelations, #deadlyuseofforce

 

As a retired Lieutenant and 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Bill Weiss worked various patrol, custody, administrative, investigative, and special assignments. He has been an Incident Commander for several major tactical incidents. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.

To follow me and or purchase my book, “Never Again”, please go to my website- http://www.billcweiss.com.

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