A recent investigation by The New York Times into the death of a prisoner, Leonard Strickland, at Clinton Correctional Facility reveals a savage beating by correction officers, horrifying indifference to the prisoner’s condition by medical personnel, lying by the corrections officers involved, and a total absence of any sanctions or systemic response. The biggest shock comes from the claim that a handcuffed and viciously beaten prisoner was a continuing threat or presented a potential for escape that justified the physical abuse and indifference that led to his death. Could a group of correction officers actually be “afraid” of a handcuffed and unresponsive inmate or “fear” that such a prisoner would try to escape? One can only ask if this is the same “fear” that is used to justify recent police shootings of unarmed and sometimes fleeing individuals.
The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has been in the media forefront since the tragic shooting in August 2014 but it gained new traction recently when the Ferguson Grand Jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson. Traditionally, a grand jury hearing is a one-sided presentation of the facts and evidence by the prosecutor. Not here, however: District Attorney Robert McCulloch decided to let the grand jury hear all the evidence, including a narrative statement by the target. Why? Take a moment to explore this question and read Reflecting on the Ferguson Grand Jury by Joel Cohen & Bennett L. Gershman.
The central irony in this case is that the familiar abuses in the grand jury process typically occur when prosecutors refuse to present all of the evidence and, indeed, hide evidence that might have led a grand jury to refuse to indict – to vote a “no true bill.” What is particularly odd about the Ferguson Grand Jury presentation is the complaint that by his decision to present all of the evidence, McCulloch actually dis-served the prosecution. Why did McCulloch take these steps? We do not know, and we are likely never to know.