One Simple Change to the Law Could Make Prosecuting Killer Cops Easier
Zaid Jilani describes the change in The Intercept. From the article:
. . . Currently, police abuse is subject largely to one federal statute enacted in 1866: Title 18 U.S. Code, Section 242, which punishes anyone who “willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
The problem is that the statute “has nothing to do on its face with police officers or police violence,” said former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William Yeomans. “It’s about deprivation of rights. So what you’re actually proving in these cases is that the officer acted with the intent to [deny the victim rights.]”
This willfulness standard makes it difficult to prosecute police officers. “The government has to show beyond a reasonable doubt the officer acted with willful attempt to deny the victim a right,” he said.
“The officer had to intend to use more force than was reasonably necessary,” he noted. “Most of these cases are situations where officers are reacting quickly to something, so it can be very difficult to sort out what appeared to be reasonable to the officer at the time.”
In other words, you’d have to prove to a jury what was going on inside of a police officer’s mind at the time — a high bar.
He suggested a solution. Congress could lower the intent standard to “something like if the officer acted with reckless disregard.” That way, “you don’t have to actually show that the officer intended to use more force than was necessary…if the officer recklessly used more force than was necessary, he could then be prosecuted.” . . .
I do not believe that Congress will make this change. Many in Congress do not, I believe, see that there’s any problem.