Justice is blind

Letters to the Boston editor, July 13, 2007

David S. Bernstein’s willingness to ignore the truth in order to advance his own agenda, and his readiness to twist facts and numbers to draw unfair, wrongheaded, and malicious conclusions, is utterly disgraceful.

The Phoenix’s most recent attack on law enforcement was, at best, intellectually inconsistent and, at worst, intellectually dishonest. Bernstein abandoned all standards of fairness and honesty to suit a series of preconceived notions, all of which run counter to the truth we see in court every day.

In an article filled with half-truths, distortions, and outright fallacies, Bernstein’s most unconscionable and insupportable criticism was that my office does not aggressively prosecute defendants who offend against people of color. This is categorically and quantifiably untrue.

The fact is, the majority of victims who come to our office seeking justice are of color, many of them living in Boston’s poorest, most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Plus, the overwhelming majority of homicide victims — and the victimized families who sit in the front rows of our homicide trials — are black and Latino. It is for them that we seek justice, and it is on their behalf that we put killers, abusers, and gunmen in prison.

Additionally, here in Boston and in cities across the country, the primary problem in solving so many of the killings involving young black males is not police or prosecutorial ambivalence or lack of expertise but the nature of the cases themselves. These are largely “street-level” shootings where DNA and other forensic evidence rarely exists, and where the primary witnesses fail to come forward, sometimes out of legitimate fear but often to protect their own culpability in criminal acts. Bernstein cannot, on the one hand, demand higher clearance rates from law enforcement and, on the other, ignore the high standards to fairness and integrity to which we must rightly adhere in obtaining and following evidence to make cases.

It was equally disingenuous for Bernstein to suggest that we prioritize prosecution according to the media profile of a given murder — as if prosecutors, rather than reporters and editors, dictate which cases would be covered. Every single homicide case prosecuted by this office is considered high-profile, even when the media do not agree. Additionally, Bernstein’s premise that we are so eager to charge defendants in cases involving women, children, and white victims that they arrive in court “half-cooked” is not only malicious but directly contradicted by his earlier criticism that we don’t bring cases unless we believe we can convict.

Also disappointing — but, again, by no means surprising — was Bernstein’s criticism that I avoid personal responsibility for developments that take place under my watch. It can only be intellectual inconsistency or dishonesty that prevents Bernstein from recognizing the very real innovations and accomplishments of this office over the past five years, because those efforts are proof positive that wherever we have seen problems we have not ignored or avoided them but have stepped up to address them.

Working with Boston Police, academicians, and respected members of the defense bar, this office led the way in reforming eyewitness-evidence procedures — the leading cause of erroneous convictions. Our reforms were among the first in the country; they are considered the “gold standard” by leading expert Gary Wells of the University of Iowa, and have been praised by Innocence Project defense attorney Barry Scheck as a standard to which police and prosecutors nationwide should aspire.

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