In this moment, we appropriately unleash our anger and frustration at police departments across the country for their continued brutality, violence and harassment imposed upon black people. But to best honor George Floyd, we should fire our very righteous outrage, fury and ire at district attorney’s offices too.
District attorneys everywhere are the umbrella organization tasked with enforcement of laws and the prosecution of crimes—police officers and the departments they work for are merely the agents of prosecutors.
Together, prosecutors and police form the machine of law enforcement that has exacted a massive toll on and dehumanized black communities in our country for centuries. Police officers terrorize and arrest black people and hand them in shackles to DA’s for the ultimate stripping of their individual and collective humanity.
When police officers act flagrantly in violation of the constitution and our laws, when they illegally stop and frisk a black man walking on our city streets, when they racially profile and pull a car over driven by a black man without reasonable suspicion, when they beat, choke, punch, baton, tase, unleash dogs upon, shoot at and/or kill black men who pose no imminent threat, it is the DA that is responsible for prosecuting those crimes. Or, at the very least, not endorsing that callous and illegal behavior by using the fruits of those unlawful police intrusions as part of their prosecutions.
But that’s not what happens.
Instead, DA’s offices regularly and customarily overlook, justify and promote illegal, unconstitutional police misbehavior by using illegally collected evidence in their prosecutions and by actively and stubbornly opposing 4th Amendment suppression motions brought by public defenders and defense attorneys in our courts.
They regularly and customarily do not prosecute police officers who use unreasonable, excessive force and brutal violence against black men.
In fact, prosecutors actively and affirmatively protect and shield the police from liability by prosecuting the very black victims of police violence on trumped-up crimes like resisting arrest and assault on a police officer.
If George Floyd had somehow survived Derek Chauvin squeezing the life out of him, the local DA surely would’ve prosecuted Mr. Floyd for resisting arrest—and likely for assaulting the cop. So be mad at the police, but be even madder at the DA’s offices that perpetuate and protect them.
When we yell out “black lives matter,” we call for and demand the recognition and valuing of the humanity of black people in this country.
Yet it is the DA’s offices across this nation that are responsible for actively, affirmatively and proudly dehumanizing black people by perpetuating and feeding the mass incarceration monster that is fueled and filled by black bodies.
It is DA’s offices that rob black people of their humanity by stripping them of their names, calling them defendants, bodies, criminals, thugs, reducing them to their rap sheets and charges.
It is DA’s offices that repeatedly and flagrantly tell us that black lives don’t matter by sending black boys and young men to prison for life and long sentences, by defining them by their worst moments, by separating them from their families and their families from them, turning blind eyes to their stories, contexts and traumas.
It is DA’s offices that diminish black lives by insisting that black men and women with convictions forever be labeled and scarred as felons, offenders, strikers and convicts, preventing them from true reentry and reintegration into society.
To DA’s offices, black lives—no matter what they tell you—do not truly matter except to rack up convictions and fill prisons.
So yes, let’s rally at city halls and at the local police station. But don’t forget to make it loud and clear to our DA that black lives matter. Better yet, make it even clearer at the polling station to vote them out next time they’re up for election.
Sajid A. Khan is a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County and one half of the Aider and Abettor podcast. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].