A Lack Of Transparency Is Killer

Yesterday Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze would not be charged in the death of Jamar Clark:

No charges will be filed against the two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death last fall of Jamar Clark, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday, citing DNA and other evidence showing Clark had a hand on one officer’s gun during a struggle and was not handcuffed when shot by a second officer.

This decision has gone over about as well as anybody could have expected. Those who wanted the officers charged are angry because they don’t believe justice was served. Those on the side of the officers are happy and believe justice was served. In the end the announcement served primarily to galvanize both sides’ biases.

Which side is right? Therein lies the problem. Because of how the investigation was handled it’s hard to know. It was another case of “We investigated ourselves and determined that we did nothing wrong.” The investigation was headed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), both of which are law enforcement organizations. In a time when public trust in law enforcement is at a notable low the fact that both investigating organizations are involved in law enforcement cannot go without mention. But the biggest problem is that the investigation took place behind an iron curtain.

The lack of transparency is ultimately what makes the announced findings questionable. Jury trails are by no means perfect but they do take place in the public realm (members of the public can sit in and view court cases) so all evidence and arguments are not only made available but can be witnessed as they are presented. Since the investigation into Jamar Clark’s death took place entirely behind closed doors there’s no way to verify the process that lead to the findings. Without neutral witnesses to that process there is no way to verify whether the announcement was arrived to through honest analysis of the evidence at hand or through an editing process biased in favor of the officers.

Saying an investigation came to a decision is meaningless if the integrity of the investigative process cannot be verified.