On USA Today's opinion pages Aug. 25, Susan Estrich, a USC law professor, commented on the trial of Damian Williams and Henry Watson, who are accused of beating truck driver Reginald Denny at the start of last year's riots. Here are some excerpts.
. . . Criminal courtrooms are no place for policy disputes and pronouncements. Juries are supposed to assess the evidence and adjudicate individual guilt, not resolve social debates or pass judgment on society. It is a measure of just how badly politicians have failed in doing their jobs that we have come to expect jurors to do it for them. . . .
That is true not only in Los Angeles but across the country. . . .
It is, of course, essential in a democracy that police officers not abuse their right to use force. When they do, they should be tried and convicted--as wrongdoers, not as symbols. The problem today is that convictions are wrongly taken as proof that an entire police department, if not an entire city, is racist, while acquittals become occasions for attacks on the system as rigged, and media circuses that fuel unrest. And the fact that these are the likely outcomes cannot help but influence the members of the jury, raising serious concerns as to the fairness of the trial and the legitimacy of the verdicts. . . .
There are only two issues that need to be resolved in the trial of Williams and Watson: whether these two men committed the assaults charged, and whether they did so with intent to kill. To read any more into the results than that is to subvert our system and to risk injustice. Racism is just too important an issue to be relegated to a sideshow in a criminal trial. It belongs in the front of the minds of our political leaders, not in the backs of the minds of our jurors.