One of the greatest struggles in prosecuting crimes in minority communities is the lack of witnesses willing to testify, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) highlighted during a House panel on policing.
Gowdy, a former prosecutor, pressed hearing witness Northeastern University Professor Deborah Ramirez — who had spent her opening statement highlighting minority victims of police shootings and arguing that the death of a black man by police is seen as “more forgivable” than the death of a white man—about killings of police in Gowdy’s state of South Carolina.
Ramirez knew none of the names in Gowdy’s quiz.
“Professor, those are just a handful of the more than 340 police officers who were killed in the line of duty in South Carolina,” Gowdy said. “And Kevin Carper’s case is most instructive because his partner did CPR on the suspect that killed Kevin trying to save his life. Let me ask you another way.”
Gowdy then tested Ramirez on the names of victims of intra-racial murder. Again, the witness was not familiar with any of them.
“Those are all folks that were the victim of intra-racial homicides in South Carolina. and I hasten to add, there were not protest either with those police officer killings or any of the intra-racial killings, and I suspect you agree with me, professor, that all lives matter whether you’re killed by a police officer or your next door neighbor — you’re every bit as dead, aren’t you?” Gowdy said.
Ramirez responded, “I actually as a former prosecutor and someone who’s worked with police officers have the deepest respect for them.”
Both former prosecutors said one of the biggest issues in prosecuting crime, particularly for minority victims, is getting witnesses to come forward.
“You have a victim of color and we had trouble getting witnesses to cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutors which then, as you know, diminishes the quality of that case and your ability to prosecute it, which may result in a lesser plea bargain because you don’t have the facts, which may then result in what you said in your opening statement, which is people have a tendency to treat black lives differently than white when the reality is the case wasn’t quite as good. isn’t that a possibility too?” Gowdy said.
Ramirez concurred, saying “for every prosecutor who’s out there, this is a serious problem and you are correct in pointing that out, sir.”
The South Carolina lawmaker continued, recounting one such case.
“Right, and it wasn’t just me pointing it out, professor. I happen to have a fantastic chief of police when I was the DA fantastic man by the name of Tony Fisher who happened to be an African-American chief of police, and he lamented the exact same thing you and I are talking about is the loss of life in his community and the refusal of people to cooperate, even in a drive-by shooting of an 8-year-old at a birthday party. A drive-by shooting, outdoors, where the whole world saw the car drive by and nobody would cooperate with the prosecution, in the murder of an 8-year-old,” Gowdy said.
“So I hope that part of this 21st century police strategy conversation that we’re having includes getting people to cooperate with law enforcement so you can hold people to the exact same standard regardless of the race of the victim,” he continued.
Gowdy concluded by called for a truly colorblind justice system.
“My goal is for witnesses to feel comfortable cooperating, but here’s my other goal, and I’m out of time but I’m going to share it with you. I want to get to the point where we lament the death, the murder of a black female like Nell Lindsey just as much if it’s at the hand of an abusive husband, which it was, as we would if it would have been at the hands of a white cop. I’d like to get to the point where we are equally outraged at the loss of life,” he said.