February 10, 2013 New York Times -
To the Editor:
For poor people of color trapped in the criminal justice system, the fact that police lie is a self-evident truth. They do so routinely and with impunity.
Last fall, the criminal defense clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law represented a young black man charged with possession of a knife (recovered from his pants pocket) after he was searched by a police officer who swore — under penalty of perjury — that the client was blocking the entrance to a building in violation of a disorderly conduct statute. A video obtained from an adjacent store revealed a very different reality — just a young kid talking with friends, never blocking anyone’s way.
Too often, though, without a video, our clients’ accounts of the lies told by police fall on deaf ears. Prosecutors and judges engage in cognitive dissonance — on the one hand understanding that police lie; on the other, failing to address the issue in any meaningful way.
Perhaps this is because our criminal justice system relies so heavily on the assumption of police as truth tellers. Acknowledging the problem threatens the very foundation of an already dysfunctional system.
For those who have experienced the corrupting effect of police lies, however, the question remains: what will it take to break a police practice that leads to so much injustice?
New York, Feb. 4, 2013
The writer is a clinical assistant professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.