Editorial: Texas pardon of slain protester undermines justice system

The American criminal justice system is decidedly imperfect. But despite a history of unjust convictions and acquittals rooted in racism and social and financial inequity, he has long been respected above his counterparts in more authoritarian countries for at least aspiring to fair treatment of defendants. .

Its goal is to absolve the innocent and punish the guilty, regardless of which party or person holds political power. Trust in American democracy is based in part on belief in the integrity and independence of the justice system.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s May 16 pardon of convicted murderer Daniel Perry threatens that trust.

Perry was a 30-year-old U.S. Army sergeant and Uber driver angry over protests following the May 25, 2020, police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas – since renamed Fort Cavazos as part of a series of base name changes aimed at removing ties to Confederate or racist leaders.

On July 25 of that year, Perry ran a red light and drove to a street protest in Austin, about 70 miles from his base.

He was confronted by protesters, including Air Force veteran Garrett Foster, 28, who was holding a military-style rifle, as Texas open carry laws allow.

Foster motioned for Perry to roll down his window. Testimony and Perry’s own statements reveal that Foster did not point the gun at him. But Perry said he wasn’t going to give Foster the chance to do that.

“I think he was going to target me,” Perry said in a police interview. “I didn’t want to give him a chance to target me, you know.”

So Perry shot Foster with a handgun.

Was it self-defense? A Texas jury determined not and found Perry guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

But right-wing commentators, including Tucker Carlson, and politicians who have no business opposing jury verdicts, immediately began pressuring Abbott for a pardon because they wanted to push back against Black Lives Matter and raucous and sometimes violent protests that the organization inspired during World War II. second half of 2020.

In Texas, a governor can only grant a pardon if a seven-member Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends one. But the governor appoints members who grant Abbott’s request. Abbott in turn granted clemency on Thursday, and Perry was immediately released and his gun rights restored.

Pardons are a kind of safety valve, useful when the criminal justice system follows the letter of the law but nevertheless results in injustice given the particular circumstances of the crime or offender. But leaders can easily abuse it to shield their supporters from accountability while letting political opponents suffer the full consequences of their crimes.

Perhaps the most striking examples in recent memory are the pardons granted by Donald Trump to his political allies and members of his campaign team, including Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. Trump has pledged to pardon rioters convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack who intended to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. And he has promised to use the Justice Department to prosecute his political enemies, including Biden, if he is elected in November.

Abbott’s pardon of Perry is not directly self-serving in the same sense, but it allows him to substitute his own judgment for that rendered by the justice system and elevates his beliefs above the findings of a jury.

By way of explanation, Abbott released a statement that “Texas has one of the strongest ‘stand your ground’ self-defense laws that cannot be overturned by a progressive jury or prosecutor.” »

But the jury didn’t overturn anything. His task was to sift through the evidence and determine the facts, including whether Foster had pointed the gun at Perry and, if not, he could be considered such an immediate threat that it would warrant Perry shooting him. Given that Perry himself has acknowledged that Foster was not targeting him, there is little room for doubt. Abbott’s pardon, along with Texas’ reckless gun laws, could easily turn any argument into a shootout.

And this could turn any criminal proceedings into a political battle. Abbott has repeatedly stated his displeasure with Black Lives Matter protesters. It is unlikely that Texans believe that Abbott would have similarly forgiven Foster if he had shot Perry, lest Perry shoot him first without aiming at him.

This leaves people with the nagging thought that the American criminal justice system will treat people differently based on who they are and their allies. This is nothing new, and the protests following Floyd’s killing remind us that we still have much work to do to eliminate race, politics, and other inappropriate factors from the system. However, while much of the nation works to diminish these things, it is faced with policy measures such as Abbott’s that push in the other direction.