Peter St. Onge

Commentary: It was right to bring this case to trial

You knew.

On the day you watched the dashcam video, you knew a hung jury was a likely conclusion to the Randall Kerrick trial.

You knew that based on what the video showed and didn’t show, it would be hard for 12 men and women, with no dissenters, to be certain that the CMPD officer acted excessively in shooting Jonathan Ferrell.

Maybe you also knew that there would be anger today. Some of it would come from those who believe a mistrial brings Ferrell and his family no justice. Some of it would come from those who watched the dashcam video and wonder why Kerrick was arrested at all.

But on this day with few conclusions, at least one should be clear:

It was right to bring this case to trial.

Let’s remember what the video showed us from that day almost two years ago. In it was an unarmed Ferrell, and because he was unarmed, two questions frame this tragedy: Did Kerrick act outside of CMPD policy in pulling and firing his weapon? And if so, did the perceived threat of Ferrell give the officer enough of a reason?

It’s a good bet that Kerrick won’t ever be a policeman again, because departments teach their officers that pulling and firing your gun should be among your last resorts, not among your first inclinations. Yet Kerrick’s actions, while not the ones we want from armed officers, were also a human reaction to what he thought was a threat.

Was that reaction excessive? It’s a legitimate legal question. Twelve deadlocked jurors should at least show us that.

Just as important is this: It was a question we had a chance to answer.

Too often, that hasn’t happened when black men die at the hands of police officers. It didn’t happen in Ferguson, Mo., where a prosecutor misused the grand jury process to determine a police officer’s innocence instead of merely determining probable cause.

That officer, Darryl Wilson, probably would have been acquitted in a trial, based on investigations since. But his trial was essentially held in private. The truth was hidden. Ferguson burned.

Now Charlotte faces its moment. Maybe things deteriorate here, too. But probably not.

We’re a city with a history of confronting struggles together instead of coming apart.

We’re a city that’s done a lot of that leading up to this trial, with forums and panels that have prompted important discussions about race relations and police.

Those conversations were possible, in part, because we knew this trial was coming. We knew we would get to see the evidence, including that video.

We can disagree today about what it showed us. Twelve men and women did exactly that.

But it was right to give them, and us, the opportunity to decide.

Peter: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange.

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