“I think what bothers me the most about the whole thing is we’re going to pretty much pat them on the back and say, ‘Sorry, and here’s some money for taking over half of your life.’”
Never mind that Henry and Leon have to apply for a pardon from Governor McCrory before they can receive the meager $750,000 and a reinstatement of their rights as law abiding citizens. Forget about the impending civil suit against Robeson County and the SBI for coercing the two brothers into confessing to a crime they did not commit. There will be no formal inquiry into why Joe Freeman Britt and the police both ignored the more obvious suspect, Roscoe Artis.
The high standard to which police officers, prosecutors, attorneys, and legislators are held is frequently violated, but the common response seems to be the comment, “Mistakes were made,” along with a shrug of the shoulders. The injustice forced upon Henry and Leon no longer makes the news. There is no talk of leveling charges of false imprisonment, attempted murder, or conspiracy to commit murder against those who took 31 years from two black teens. Not even a public apology.
The people who uphold the law are typically granted immunity from criminal charges and civil suits when, in the process of their duties, mistakes are made. So long as those mistakes are proven to be without malice or gross negligence. Even then, a lot of mistakes are overlooked to the point where it becomes ordinary for innocents to suffer at the hands of the authorities, be it an extensive prison term or a fusillade of bullets. Ask Willy Womble, who just regained his freedom after 38 years of incarceration and a demure apology from the prosecutor and victim’s family. Ask Michael Brown and any number of victims of fatal police shootings.
Every effort is made to incapacitate a threat, to convict, sentence, and contest the appeals of innocents in prison, but once they’re released next to nothing is done to recognize them as victims of justice run amok. Henry and Leon’s pictures were used by Republican lawmakers in vicious political attack ads meant to inspire fear. How dare a politician be soft on crime! No legislator has bothered to comment on the innocent men slandered in these ads.
So as long as the prosecutors who brag about the number of “criminals” they’ve put on death row are right most of the time – it’s okay if a few blameless citizens are executed. So long as the detectives who browbeat two mentally challenged young men into confessing to a heinous crime did so with good intentions – it’s alright. So long as the law enforcement officers who shot to death unarmed civilians with their hands raised in surrender do it to serve and protect – it’s not a problem. At least, not until the riots and civic unrest, then it’s sit down and let’s talk.
The biggest problem with the criminal justice system is that, in addition to giving a handful of authorities a lot of power, these officials are rarely held accountable for violating the public trust. On occasion there are PR events intended to restore the damage done to this increasingly brittle relationship, but that’s about it. Maybe, if it was a felony to abuse one’s power as a detective, DA, judge, or legislator, and this felony carried a non-negotiable mandatory prison term, there might be fewer innocents wrongly imprisoned or killed by the police. Oh. Wait, it is a felony. One that’s selectively enforced.