Professor Kami Simmons op/ed in the Huffington Post focuses on need for implementing systemic police reforms

Photo of Wake Forest Law Professor Kami Chavis

Professor Kami Chavis

Jurors recently convicted five police officers accused of civil rights violations and obstruction of justice following a shooting of six people in New Orleans. Federal prosecutors alleged that the defendant police officers shot at two families as they crossed the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans while fleeing Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. Two victims, one of which sustained gunshot wounds to the back of the head, died, and four others were critically wounded. Prosecutors claimed that after the shooting, several officers engaged in an elaborate effort to conceal evidence that the victims were unarmed and to give the appearance that the officers’ actions were justified.

Crucial to the government’s case was the testimony of several officers who had pled guilty to charges related to shooting. Given the “blue code of silence” that is widely known to exist among police officers, it would have been extremely difficult to secure these convictions without the testimony of these officers, some of whom had actively participated in the scheme to fabricate and conceal evidence. This unwritten code not only discourages police officers from reporting the wrongdoing of their fellow officers, but also encourages them to hinder investigations of alleged misconduct. The officers who participated in the Danziger Bridge shooting bear direct culpability for their actions. The ensuing cover-up, however, which was orchestrated by the supervising officers who were assigned to investigate the shooting, exemplifies the danger of the code of silence and demonstrates a lack of accountability across the entire department.

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