April 16, 2015

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The couple of dozen cops I”€™ve known personally”€”including a nephew”€”were all decent and conscientious people. Rogue cops surely exist, though, and cause great suffering. I was just reading (in New Yorker magazine) about the case of John Restivo here on Long Island, who served 18 years for a crime he should never have been convicted of. Planted evidence, forced confessions, jailhouse informants bribed to lie with time off their sentences … it all happens.

And yes, it happens to blacks too. Here’s one: Rosean Hargrave, just released after 23 years in jail after a dubious conviction driven by zealous homicide detective Louis Scarcella. 

Whether Hargarve is innocent of the murder he was sentenced for, and whether Scarcella is the vindictive sociopath he’s drawn as, I can”€™t say: but accounts of the Hargrave case don”€™t give the impression that it meets the “€œreasonable doubt”€ standard.

Law enforcement can be a rough and ready business. Sure, Fergusons and Trayvons happen: so do Ruby Ridges and Serpicos.

On the other other hand, I recall a conversation I had thirty years ago with a guy I was attending classes with in London. He had had a former career as a prison probation officer, and had a fund of colorful stories about his clients. One day I asked him: “€œHow many of the people doing time in prison are innocent?”€

His reply:  “€œInnocent of the thing they were convicted for? Around five percent. Innocent of anything criminal at all? Fewer than one percent. Way fewer.”€

Elaborating, he explained that neighborhood cops know who the bad actors are, and get frustrated at not being able to nail them for crimes they know they”€™re guilty of. When they can, cops vent their frustration by “€œstitching up”€ a bad guy for something equivalent he didn”€™t do.

“€œIt’s naughty,”€ he added, “€œbut probably for the social good.”€


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