We’ll Be Here Again If We Don’t Start Holding Prosecutors Accountable
To stop these kinds of extrajudicial murders, we need to revamp a judicial system that allows them to happen and protects murderers when they kill us.
June 01, 2020 at 6:33 pm
By Scott Roberts, Senior Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns for Color Of Change
It's my job to lead the Criminal Justice team at Color of Change, so I have to keep my mind on building power even in the face of ceaseless assaults on Black life. With that focus on power, my team, and our allies in the criminal justice reform movement have been building answers to the main question that everyone has been asking: How do we prevent this from happening again?
We saw massive protests with Eric Garner, with Trayvon Martin and with the Central Park Five and Amadou Dialoo far before that. This time around, everyone from Cardi B to Beyonce, Justin Timberlake to Shawn Mendes has joined forces with Color Of Change to demand justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless people who have been murdered by racist police and vigilantes before and after them. As the streets of Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles explode in anger, we are creating an environment where our voices cannot be ignored.
We’ve created the moment, now it’s time to get to work on making our demands unavoidable.
To stop these kinds of extrajudicial murders, we need to revamp a judicial system that allows them to happen and protects murderers when they kill us. The most powerful people in that criminal justice system are local prosecutors.
After George Floyd’s murder, County Attorney Michael Freeman charged just one of Floyd’s murderers, and even before the trial has begun he’s already defending the police, noting in the charges against Derek Chauvin that Floyd had underlying conditions that lead to his death. Now Chauvin’s case is in the hands of yet another prosecutor, Minneapolis Attorney General Keith Ellison.
In Ahmaud Arbery’s case District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who has a history of unfairly prosecuting officers, looked the other way and recused herself because they know one of the shooters. She passed the case to District Attorney George Barnhill, who then defended Ahmaud’s murderers by making the outrageous claim that Travis McMichael acted in self-defense and his actions fell within Georgia’s citizen arrest laws. After Eric Garner was murdered by police in 2014, Attorney General William Barr made the decision not to bring charges against Pantaleo, siding with a Justice Department team from New York over the Civil Rights Division in Washington, due to concerns that prosecutors could not successfully prove the officer acted willfully. A year ago, Ava DuVernay’s film, ‘When They See Us’, showed how prosecutorial misconduct ruined the lives of the Exonerated Five in 1989.
These are elected officials, y’all. By voting, or not voting, we put them in office. Holding prosecutors accountable is not only a place to channel our rage, but a way to stop police violence from happening in the first place.
To help everyone get this process started while the moment is ripe, we partnered with the director collective, ARRAY, and Participant, the leading media company dedicated to entertainment that inspires audiences to engage in positive social change, to relaunch the country’s only prosecutor directory that anyone can use to look up their local prosecutor, see if they have come forward on the issues that matter and get to work holding them accountable, if they haven’t.
For parents, teachers and children looking to respond to this movement, we also released a ‘When They See Us’ study guide designed for educators who are tasked with managing the trauma their students and their parents experience as they interact with the criminal justice system today or any day.
We know this is a winning strategy that can create systems that hold police accountable while also challenging the many other ways mass incarceration harms Black communities. Communities across the country are already demanding their prosecutors end money bail, stopover sentencing, overturn false convictions, and to punish and end police violence. We know it’s our duty to win, so let’s get to work.