Wineke: Another cop escapes indictment

Wineke: Another cop escapes indictment

You do have to wonder what a police officer must do to raise the suspicions of a grand jury.

A New York City grand jury has refused to press any charges against Officer Daniel Pintaleo, who caused the death of Eric Garner earlier this year. Garner was accused of selling unlicensed cigarettes, and when he resisted being arrested, several officers tackled him to the ground where he was put on a “choke hold” and died.

This was not a he said/he said kind of situation. The whole thing was caught on tape and was widely disseminated. Choke holds are banned in New York City, largely because several people have died because of them.

But, so what? He was selling cigarettes.

We are still arguing over the justification for a Ferguson, Missouri, officer shooting and killing Michael Brown. We haven’t really come to grips with the shooting of a 12-year-old kid in Cleveland, Ohio.

The thing is that there are a lot of shootings of unarmed black men by police officers in this country. Not all of the victims are innocent. Some are mentally ill and threatening. The 12-year-old was playing with a toy gun (I remember doing the same when I was 12; no one shot me). And some just seem inexplicable.

Here’s the difference from most of us in the dominant culture and pretty much the entire African American population: We see these shootings as a series of individual actions that can be evaluated independently.

African Americans see them as a cumulative tally that goes on week after week, month after month, and year after year with nothing ever changing.

At least, that’s what I see happening. No one has asked me to speak for the African American population. But it is hard to see that many of us in the dominant culture actually seem to care that black, unarmed teenagers keep getting killed by cops.

Or, even worse, we justify it. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is making the talk-show circuits again saying all the dead teens need to do is to be nice to the officers. Really Rudy? How much do you want to bet he plans to run for office again?

Fox news commentator Bill O’Reilly warns that protesters in Missouri have set race relations back by years when they rioted and burned St. Louis area businesses.

Really, Bill? You don’t think that killing an unarmed black man on the streets of Ferguson might also have set race relations back a bit?

Personally, I tend to be pro cop. Like many journalists, I began my career covering the police beat, spending eight hours a night with Madison police officers. My brother was a Madison cop for three decades. I still play golf with his colleagues when I get a chance. I have personally seen Madison police take incredible abuse without losing their cool.

But then the hallmark of policing in Madison has been, for about 40 years, defusing situations whenever possible, not exacerbating them. That’s not true everywhere.

Nor do I think police officers involved in fatal shootings should be presumed guilty of wrongdoing. I doubt the shootings are planned in advance.

But if you have a smoking gun and the dead guy lying at your feet is unarmed, I’m not sure you should be presumed innocent, either.