Once again, as we have seen all too often, another white police officer has been acquitted in the murder of a St. Louis Black man, Anthony Lamar Smith. Ex- police officer Jason Stockley was charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Smith. This 2011 case, like the few others where police officers have even been charged, ended the same way as the officer trials in Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell and Samuel Dubose cases. They all ended without justice for the murder of a black man. Most end in an acquittal or hung jury without a retrial.
There was strong evidence in the Smith case to convict Stockley. First, Mr. Smith was trying to get away from the officer during a police chase in his vehicle. Stockley, apparently outraged at Smith’s actions is heard saying, I’m gonna kill that ___expletive. And less than one minute later, Stockley kept his promise and shot and killed Smith. Stockley later alleged a gun was found in Smith’s car—after going inside the car.
In a further twist in this case, there was evidence showing guilt on the part of Stockley or reason to disbelieve the ex-cop’s version. A gun was found in Smith’s car. However, the gun did not have any DNA belonging to the victim; Instead, it had Stockley’s DNA on it. Any reasonable person would conclude that the gun was planted by Stockley and did not belong to Smith.
DNA can work both ways to exonerate or convict an individual. In the case of a police officer shooting, even when the absolute clarity of the DNA proves the gun did not belong to the deceased victim, the white police officer is still somehow given the illogical benefit of the doubt. In other words, even with DNA proof that the officer lied, he is allowed to be acquitted. Despite this proof of strong evidence tampering on the part of the former police officer, presiding Judge Timothy Wilson found the shooting was a justified shooting. Stockley chose a bench trial over a jury trial.
It seems these days, as in the past over 100 years, a Black man’s life still appears subordinate to a white man’s life. And in the criminal justice system, it appears that black lives do not matter, particularly when it comes down to police shooting cases.
As long as the police are allowed to investigate their own officers for wrongdoing in police involved shootings, there will continue to be injustice in the criminal justice system. Black lives do matter. But much too often, Black lives do not matter in the case of a police involved shooting of a black man. The rigged criminal justice system, in favor of police officers over a Black man’s life, must change.
As a lawyer and former prosecutor, I respect the judicial system. I just don’t think it’s fair—at all times like in this case. Today, I fear another cop got away with murder.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore City prosecutor. She often appears as a legal analyst on MSNBC, CBS News, Al Jazeera, PBS News Hour and Fox 5 DC. Her opinion pieces appear in the Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post and Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @legalspeaks.