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A Goal for Police

Inglewood’s police brutality trial ended Tuesday in a deadlocked jury so evenly divided that legal experts say the odds of winning a conviction in a retrial are dim. Nonetheless, the videotaped image of then-Inglewood Officer Jeremy Morse, who is white, slamming then-16-year-old Donovan Jackson, who is black, onto his patrol car and punching him attracted enough attention worldwide that Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley wasted no time in promising a retrial on the felony assault charge. If only he’d given the original trial that kind of attention.

Perhaps then the deputy attorneys Cooley assigned to the case would have tried to pick a jury that more closely resembled Inglewood’s population, which is about half African American, instead of settling for a jury with only one black member. And perhaps they would have bothered to learn what their witnesses were going to say beforehand rather than being surprised in court to hear their key use-of-force expert say he would have disciplined Morse but not filed criminal charges against him.

Whether such diligence would have changed the outcome is hard to know. As the first Rodney King trial showed more than 10 years ago, a videotape doesn’t guarantee a conviction. But at least Jackson and his supporters might have felt they were getting a serious shot at justice rather than leaving their case, as activist Najee Ali so colorfully put it, to “Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.”

Despite the echoes -- and despite Tuesday’s hung jury -- the Inglewood case is not a repeat of Rodney King. From the denunciations of Morse’s conduct by Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and the firing of the officer by Police Chief Ronald Banks to the hundreds of “peace ambassadors” who fanned out after the verdict, the unwavering official position was that Morse’s action was wrong.

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But the case is a reminder that more changes are needed, especially in the way police are trained. Yes, a routine traffic stop, as this one initially was, can turn deadly. But police are trained, or should be, to gauge the difference between a scary teenager and a scared one who came out of a gas station mini-mart to find his dad surrounded.

Police say Jackson refused an order to get into the back of a patrol car; his family says he has an auditory disorder that may have slowed his response. Witness accounts varied as to how much resistance the teenager put up before being handcuffed. That stopping to buy a bag of chips led to a beating, notoriety and a year lost to trial procedures is the real injustice of this incident, retrial or no retrial. The goal of police should be to keep it from happening again.


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