Ever since a national spotlight was put on police violence and systemic racism amid a wave of nationwide protests, cops across America have been big mad and big hurt. They feel they’re being treated as unfairly in the court of public opinion as Black people are treated in actual courts.
Here’s the thing, though: Who cares? What difference does it ultimately make what some of the general public thinks about cops when, in the real world, it is so damn hard to hold police officers accountable for their actions? It’s bad enough that we often have to settle for simple suspensions and firings of cops after they’ve done things any civilian would be charged criminally for, but it gets even worse when fired cops don’t even stay fired.
Last summer, The Root reported that two Atlanta police officers were fired after their body cameras showed them tasing HBCU students Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim while they were sitting in their car and then forcefully dragging them out of the car during a protest. On Monday, the Civil Service Board reversed that decision and cleared the officers to return to the force.
As we previously reported, the officers, Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, justified their actions by saying that they repeatedly tried to stop the car before finally pulling it over and reenacting various scenes from The Wire (For you unfortunate souls who didn’t watch the show, police brutality was a fairly constant theme). That doesn’t really matter, apparently, because the officers aren’t being reinstated because the board found that they did nothing wrong. Instead, the board found that “the city did not follow its own personnel procedures, which resulted in the officers being deprived of due process because they were not given proper notification or adequate opportunity to respond,” the Associated Press reports.
Video of the confrontation was shared widely online and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and then-Police Chief Erika Shields decided the two officers had used excessive force and must be fired immediately.
Streeter and Gardner each received a notice of proposed adverse action May 31 indicating dismissal effective the following day and citing “Maltreatment or Unnecessary Force.” That same day, they were served notices of final adverse action effective the next day.
Generally, an employee should be given 10 days between the notice of proposed adverse action, such as a firing, and its effective date, the Civil Service Board said in its order. An adverse action can become effective immediately in an emergency situation, but the board found the city did not follow its own guidelines for an emergency situation.
Shields, who stepped down as police chief about two weeks after the incident, told the board extraordinary circumstances resulted in the decision to fire the two longtime officers. City officials feared the incident would increase outrage against police.
“The circumstances were exceptional,” Shields testified according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We did, I did, what I had to do to make sure the city was stabilized.”
The somewhat good but mostly uninspiring news is that the officers could still face criminal charges. Along with four other officers who were not fired despite being involved in the altercation, Streeter and Gardner were charged with crimes by then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. Howard charged both officers with aggravated assault. His decision to charge the cops wasn’t popular with law enforcement, predictably, but now that decision will fall to a new prosecutor since current District Attorney Fani Willis, who beat Howard in the last election, asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to assign the case to another prosecutor, “saying Howard’s actions made it inappropriate for her office to pursue the case,” AP reports.
So now another prosecutor gets to decide whether to proceed with the charges against the officers. Seeing as the firings of the officers didn’t even stick, one probably shouldn’t hold their breath in hopes that justice will prevail—but we can always hope.