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Protesters sabotage Brooklyn district attorney

Melvin B. Miller

Liberals generally agree that the criminal justice system must be reformed. However, there seems to be limited understanding of the significant role played by district attorneys in the process. The professional performance of DAs depends upon the skills of the police as criminal investigators. However, many of the complaints of racial minorities involve allegations of police misconduct. Consequently, a skillful DA like Ken Thompson of Brooklyn, who must work closely with the police, can become the object of protest for supporting the police perspective of an issue involving blacks.

Thompson offended the liberals when he failed to press for imprisonment of a former police officer who, during his days as a rookie, shot and killed Akai Gurley by accident. The former police officer, Peter Liang, is Chinese and Gurley was black. Thompson had charged Liang with a misdemeanor and gained a conviction, but that was insufficient for many protestors during an era when so many blacks have been killed by police officers.

If Thompson had been insensitive and incompetent it would have made sense to begin a protest that might lead to his ouster. After all, DAs are elected. Voters recently turned out Tim McGinty in Cleveland for the way he protected the police officer who callously shot young Tamir Rice who had a toy gun. And voters ousted Anita Alvarez in Cook County who helped to conceal the unlawful police shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago.

Thompson is of a different stripe. Only two years in office, he has initiated several outstanding programs. One that has gained national attention is a Conviction Review Unit to vacate or urge the dismissal of convictions found to be improper. Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., professor at Harvard Law School and director of the Criminal Justice Institute, also oversees Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit. So far, 20 defendants have been exonerated of crimes as significant as murder.

Indeed, Akai Gurley’s life mattered. He died in an unfortunate accident. The offending former police officer was convicted for the offense. The judge has the sole authority to determine the sentence. The community does not benefit if sustained protests against Thompson damage the political prospects for his re-election and the reformation of the judicial system that he inaugurated.