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Federal prosecutors in the United States declined to bring charges against cops facing allegations of civil rights violations in 96 percent of cases between 1995 and 2015, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The newspaper sifted through almost three million records from the US Department of Justice, and found that prosecutors did not pursue 12,703 potential civil rights violations out of 13,233 cases.
The same couldn't be said for other kinds of cases against non-police defendants. The investigation found that federal prosecutors declined to bring charges in only 23 percent of other types of criminal cases.
The stunning findings provide the hard, nationwide data to back up one of the fundamental claims driving the Black Lives Matter movement – that police officers are rarely held accountable when faced with allegations of brutality or misconduct, and whose victims, more often than not, are black and hispanic.
The most common reasons prosecutors offered for why they weren't pursuing a civil rights case was "weak or insufficient evidence," lack of criminal intent or direct orders from the Justice Department. In a civil rights case, a federal prosecutor has to be able to prove that an officer acted with the intention of depriving a person of their civil rights.
Jim Pasco, who heads the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Tribune-Review in response to the findings: "Maybe they're not taking the cases because they're not good cases."
The report was released just days after a US attorney in New York declined to bring charges against NYPD officer Richard Haste for shooting an unarmed black teenager in his family's apartment in the Bronx four years ago. Haste says he was told by a narcotics surveillance team that Ramarley Graham, 18, could be armed. Haste says he mistakenly believed Graham was reaching for a gun, and, fearing for his life, shot him.
"I'm asking now, do black lives matter?" said Frank Graham, Ramarley Graham's father, after the decision was handed down. "I personally believe it would have never happened if it had been a Caucasian kid."
The unarmed, black male teenager shot by a white police officer, who walks free, has become a trope in recent years, stoking the fire of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose adherents say the criminal justice system is inherently flawed and fundamentally structured to protect the rights of police officers while neglecting those of poor and / or minority communities.
According to the report, a US attorney's office in northern Mississippi pursued 24 civil rights cases involving officers – the most of any federal prosecutor's office. Twenty of those 24 cases resulted in convictions.
The Tribune-Review sought comment from the Justice Department in response to what they found. Spokeswoman Dena Iverson told reporters that the agency "takes any allegation of law enforcement misconduct seriously and will review those allegations when they are brought to our attention."