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Hugs and Justice

by George on November 29, 2014 07:15

 By now, most people have seen this photo of 12 year old Devante Hart hugging and being hugged by Portland, OR, Police Sergeant Bret Barnum at a Ferguson protest rally in Portland, Oregon on 11/28/14.  
 

The young man waPortland sergeant and protestor hugs holding a sign reading, "Free Hugs."  Sgt. Barnum came up and spoke to him for a few minutes, just like he might any 12 year old.  Young Mr. Hart began tearing up, and when Sgt. Barnum asked him for a hug, we see the results.  Two human beings, one in a uniform who stands ready to give his life for this young man if needed, and another who is willing to step across the divide created by a belief about the police.  

The only reason this is shocking to some is that they have bought into a narrative that does not fit reality.  It's a shame that this is international news or that people think it unique.  Yes, there are a few bad apples in law enforcement who are brutal, and more than a few are callous, arrogant, or rude.  Using a small minority of jerks or thugs to paint the whole of law enforcement with a broad brush is just as wrong as taking a small portion of any community or organization and extrapolating that misconduct to the whole.  

A study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that 70% of professional standards complaints  are internally generated.  Seven of ten complaints about officers are generated by other officers.  Officers who engage in misconduct of any kind--including using excessive force or improperly treating people--are routinely disciplined and terminated.  I've assisted in terminating the employment of officers, and helped prosecute two.  

However, for the most part, the officers nationwide I have known for more than 30 years are simply trying to do a job and routinely act in what can only be described as in a quietly heroic manner, day after day, week after week, year after year.  When called upon, they have also acted with valor, and sadly, I have personally known seven officers who have been murdered and several more who were killed on the job.  And I've defended many in my more than two decades of defending officers all over the nation as an expert witness.  

Justice was served in Ferguson, Missouri.  Not justice for Officer Wilson or justice for Michael Brown.  Justice is not for any individual.  What most people want when calling for justice for or against any single person is revenge.  Or vindication of their beliefs.  Or justification for their personal narratives of how this world works.  Those who call for justice for a person demonstrate a gross misunderstanding of what justice means and how our system works.

Justice is a process.  Justice is blind and based on provable facts.   In this or any incident, whatever our personal beliefs and desire for an outcome, the process, however imperfect it might be, works.  It sifts through the morass of the known facts and compares it to the laws on the books.  It balances the rights of the accused against what can be proved through physical evidence and credible testimony.  In the end, like the outcome or not, both Wilson and Brown received "justice" under the law.  That is what the rule of law provides: a certainty of process to every person. That is the only value the US justice system provides that is unique in all the world.  If that system is broken through a desire of justice for someone or for some outcome, what it means to be an American is diminished.  It it happens enough times, that value will become nil and justice will be abandoned for anyone.

So in Portland, it's good for most people to see two people recognize the humanity in the other and each step across the great divide that has been growing and growing for the last few years.  For some of this, this photo is not surprising.