Editorial: After hung jury in Kerrick case, let’s keep the peace, seek reconciliation

The Observer editorial board

Randall "Wes" Kerrick and his wife, Carrie, exit the courtroom Friday.
Randall "Wes" Kerrick and his wife, Carrie, exit the courtroom Friday. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

We had all hoped the jury would tell us whether Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick used excessive force when he shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell that night in 2013.

The lawyers put the evidence before them. These 12 citizens weighed the facts and applied the law. But instead of a verdict, they supplied a frustrating mirror image of the divided community they represent.

So, what now?

The families at the heart of this case are suffering greatly. Let’s not compound their pain by losing our civic dignity. Charlotte has no need for the rioting and looting that rocked Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., following the deaths of other unarmed black men at the hands of police.

As of about 7 p.m. Friday, protests were peaceful.

We understand the frustrations of those who feel Kerrick should have gone to prison. Video evidence in cases such as the fatal shootings of Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., and Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati clearly suggest that some police officers, in tense confrontations, use excessive force against unarmed black men.

But in this case, the moment Ferrell collided with Kerrick was not caught on tape. We’ll never know for sure if, as the defense contended, he charged at Kerrick or if, as the prosecution suggested, he was just running away from a Taser and didn’t see Kerrick standing there, gun at the ready.

To prove voluntary manslaughter, the prosecution needed to show Kerrick used excessive force in shooting Ferrell 10 times. Kerrick’s lawyers undermined the prosecution’s theory of a panicked cop and offered an equally plausible one: An officer faced with an onrushing suspect and no choice but to shoot.

Because of that, we also can understand why some feel Kerrick should have been acquitted.

Ultimately, it’s important to point out that Kerrick was on trial because the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department put him there. That’s clear proof the department is willing to hold officers to maximum accountability. That message has been sent and received by every police officer on the force.

While holding the officers accountable, however, police brass must also hold themselves accountable. Kerrick’s defense team raised serious questions about seeming inconsistencies in use-of-force training and policies. That must be rectified, if it hasn’t been already.

We, as a community and a nation, are still wrestling with the troubling questions these cases raise about the role of race in our justice system. Blacks and whites watched the same video and often reached diametrically opposite conclusions.

We have a long way to go to become one America, rather than two color-coded ones.

We must continue building bridges between the police and the black community through outreach efforts such as the police department’s Cops & Barbers program. We must engage in cross-racial dialogue. The nonprofit Community Building Initiative’s discussion guides on the Kerrick case and the shootings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston provide a solid starting point.

You can find them at www.cbicharlotte.org.

Prosecutors must decide whether to retry Kerrick. They know their case fell flat with at least four jurors, or possibly eight. That surely makes the prospect of a retrial daunting.

Regardless of what they decide, we as a community must remember that this is not a sporting event. The aim is justice, not a “win” for our “side.”

That “spectator sport” mindset cheapens what really has been lost.

Jonathan Ferrell, a son, brother and fiancée, lost his life. Randall Kerrick, a husband and father, has likely lost his career, and could still lose his freedom.

Let’s move toward healing.

Let’s not lose anything more.