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Once again, the criminal justice system has failed this country ("N.Y. officer not indicted in death," Dec. 4). And again, the criminal justice system owes us an explanation. Today, another police officer remained un-indicted for the killing of a civilian.

In the wake of Michael Brown's death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., it became clear that the police needed more transparency in how they interact with civilians. Though many agreed that there was enough evidence to charge Mr. Wilson with a crime, some saw the need for a video of what occurred that day. It seems as though that became the explanation: we need video evidence. As a result, a greater emphasis is now being placed on a move toward police body cameras. President Barack Obama even made a spending request to that effect. President Obama, and many others, seemed to agree that a video recording of police-civilian interactions could be the way to ensure justice.

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Today, we see that a videotape makes no difference. And so, again, the criminal justice system owes us an explanation. In the case of Eric Garner, there was a recording. It was not from a police body camera but a camera with a better view than the police camera footages you may have seen so far. The recording showed that Mr. Garner did not threaten the police in any way. However, Officer Daniel Pantaleo decided to put him in a chokehold. The video then showed Mr. Garner surrounded by more than five officers and on the ground defenseless, facing a wall. But still, he was in a chokehold. All he could say, repeatedly, was "I can't breathe." These trained officers did not know what it meant to subdue a civilian. If subduing him was the goal, it was accomplished at the very moment Mr. Garner's body hit the ground without a fight. The trained officers failed to see that "I can't breathe" was not a statement made resisting arrest but was a statement from a man hanging on to life. The chokehold continued until Mr. Garner was lifeless. This footage is hard to watch, and the reality of it is hard to bear. We deserve an explanation.

The criminal justice system owes us an explanation as to why Officer Pantaleo was not charged. Our questions are many. Is a grand jury justified in making the determination that what Officer Pantaleo did was the right thing? Was he justified in his actions? Did he feel threatened? Was he acting out of a fear for his life? Did he ever believe that Mr. Garner carried or tried to access a weapon? The evidence would not support any of those positions. The evidence showed that not only did Officer Pantaleo have adequate back-up, but also that the situation was not one that called for a physical altercation of any kind. We are hurt by the lack of indictment in a case where the criminal justice system had access to exactly what it promised would bring just results — a video recording. Why would we believe that police body cameras are the way forward now? Our society is failing to define acts that it finds punishable and that is a sign that the criminal justice system is deteriorating. Police officers are here to protect and serve us. But how can we believe that a police officer will protect us if we have clear evidence that police officers may justifiably deny us the right to breathe? We are hurt. And we deserve an explanation.

Pokuaa Owusu-Acheaw, Baltimore

The letter represents the view of the University of Baltimore chapter of the National Black Law Students Association.

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