Police Prosecutions and Punitive Instincts
61 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2020 Last revised: 22 Jun 2021
Date Written: March 1, 2021
This Article makes two contributions to the fields of policing and
criminal legal scholarship. First, it sounds a cautionary note about the use
of individual prosecutions to remedy police brutality. It argues that the calls
for ways to ease the path to more police prosecutions from legal scholars,
reformers, and advocates who, at the same time, advocate for a dramatic
reduction of the criminal legal system’s footprint, are deeply problematic.
It shows that police prosecutions legitimize the criminal legal system while
at the same time displaying the same racism and ineffectiveness that have
been shown to pervade our prison-backed criminal machinery.
The Article looks at three recent trials and convictions of police officers
of color, Peter Liang, Mohammed Noor, and Nouman Raja, in order to
underscore the argument that the criminal legal system’s race problems are playing themselves out predictably against police officers. The Article
argues that we should take the recent swell of prison abolitionist
scholarship to heart when we look at police prosecutions and adds to that
literature by exploring this controversial set of defendants that are
considered a third rail, even among most abolitionists.
Second, the Article argues that police prosecutions hamper large-scale
changes to policing. By allowing law enforcement to claim that brutality is
an aberration, solvable through use of the very system that encourages
brutality in the first place, we re-inscribe the failures of policing and ignore
the everyday systemic and destructive violence perpetrated by police on
communities of color. In order to achieve racial justice and real police
reform, we must reduce our reliance on the police, rather than looking to
the criminal legal system to solve this crisis.
Keywords: policing, prosecution, criminal law, criminal procedure
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