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News Brief: Police Acquittal, Trump Rally, Kushner In Middle East


When police officers go on trial for shootings, why are so many acquitted?


Yeah, Dominique Heaggan-Brown is the latest. A jury acquitted the Milwaukee ex-cop in the shooting death of 23-year-old Sylville Smith. Last week, a Minnesota jury acquitted an officer in the shooting death of Philando Castile that was captured on video. And last month, the Oklahoma officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, was acquitted.

INSKEEP: David French makes an argument in National Review in favor of the latest acquittal and some others. He's on the line. Good morning.

DAVID FRENCH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: The impression we get lately is that police do tend to get off. Is that a correct impression statistically?

FRENCH: Yeah, absolutely. It's a correct impression. I mean, if you're a police officer facing a jury, you're going to have a much better chance of an acquittal than a - than a regular person, someone not facing a trial for a line of duty shooting.

INSKEEP: Which outrages a lot of people. These are shootings that prompted protests, that people saw at least partially on video in some cases. But in the case of Officer Heaggan-Brown, you approve of the not guilty verdict. Why?

FRENCH: Well, right. That case was very different from the Philando Castile case. In the - in the Heaggan-Brown case, the officer's first shot - he fired two shots, the first one wounded and the second one was fatal. The prosecution conceded that the first shot was appropriate. A suspect had a gun, turned towards the officer, was in flight from the officer, not obeying the officer's commands. The - he fired the first shot, and the second shot came less than two seconds later.

And the prosecution's argument was he should have stopped shooting after that first shot. And that's a very difficult thing in the heat of the moment when the officer's training is to fire until the threat is - to keep firing until a threat is neutralized, not to fire, pause, reflect, fire again. And the jury didn't take that much time, really, to decide that he should be acquitted. And that was a - that was a situation where it was a unique prosecution. Rarely do you see a prosecutor claim, well, we're going to prosecute for one shot but not - for not - not for the first shot but for the second one.

INSKEEP: Well, this is interesting. Do you see a broader lesson here in why it is that so many officers get off because the jury is thinking about the split-second decision that the officer has to make?

FRENCH: Right. Well, it's combined that - that's combined with the written law and kind of an unwritten law. The written law requires a officer - or only requires officers to have a reasonable belief that they're in mortal danger or someone else is. They don't have to prove that they were in actual danger - kind of rewind the tape and show that they were actually in danger - only that they had this reasonable belief that they were. But it's combined with an unwritten law.

And this unwritten law is a little bit problematic. And there's an awful lot of juries who seem to believe that as soon as an officer can prove that he felt fear, that that would be, by definition, reasonable. But there's such a thing as unreasonable fear, such as in the Philando Castile case. And sometimes juries allow officers to get off, I think, inappropriately just because the officer was afraid.

INSKEEP: So you're not defending every acquittal. It sounds like you're not defending the Philando Castile verdict, for example.

FRENCH: Correct. I think that verdict was a miscarriage of justice. The officer's fear was unreasonable, and yet the jury let him off anyway when what we had there was sheer panic that was unreasonable and inappropriate.

INSKEEP: David French, pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

FRENCH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's a senior writer at National Review.


INSKEEP: Few people would accuse President Trump of being disciplined, but there's one way in which he really is.

GREENE: Yeah, he's considered undisciplined because he keeps making self-destructive acts. But this is the discipline - and it does go a long way in politics - when Trump settles on a message he likes, he is glad to repeat it again and again. Last night, the president traveled to Iowa.

And it sort of felt like the presidential campaign was still under way. He was doing some classic riffs. He attacked the media. He talked up his Supreme Court pick. He also talked about health care legislation which Senate Republicans hope to vote on within days.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Mara Liasson was at Trump's rally in Iowa. Hi, Mara.


INSKEEP: What was it like?

LIASSON: Well, it was very much like a 2016 campaign rally. As a matter of fact, it was sponsored by his re-election campaign, so it was a campaign rally. It would be...

INSKEEP: Two-and-a-half years...


INSKEEP: ...Before the Iowa caucuses.



LIASSON: He's not wasting any time.

INSKEEP: I'll try to stay calm.


INSKEEP: Go on. Go on.

LIASSON: There were the attacks on the media as fake news. There were the attacks on Democrats as obstructionists. At a mention of Hillary Clinton, there were the lock her up chants. There was also the reprise of the greatest moments of his campaign including the primaries. And there was the recitation of his historic accomplishments in office and the airing of grievances about the witch hunt, the Russia investigation.

INSKEEP: Which he's said again and again and again and made other remarks that have been seen as damaging about the Russian investigation. But when it turned to health care, how's he talking about replacing the Affordable Care Act?

LIASSON: Well, one of the reasons that he held this rally, of course, was because the health care bill is going to be announced today in the Senate. In addition, this was a way for the president to reconnect with his base. But he did talk about - he said he was thrilled to be out of the Washington swamp. And he did talk a little bit about the health care bill after, of course, saying that Obamacare was a disaster and was now over with, completely collapsed. Here he is.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think and I hope - can't guarantee anything, but I hope we're going to surprise you with a really good plan. You know, I've been talking about a plan with heart. I said, add some money to it.

LIASSON: So this is really interesting. He didn't provide any details about what was going to be in the Senate plan, but you - we know that privately he has criticized the House bill as mean. This was the same House bill that he celebrated in that Rose Garden ceremony. And he has said privately that the Senate bill should be more generous. And now, publicly, he's talking about a bill with more heart. We don't know exactly what he - what he wants.

INSKEEP: Mara, is it going to be awkward for Republicans if the Senate bill turns out not to be much more generous than the House bill?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know what's going to be in the Senate bill. But we think it's going to look a lot like the House bill with probably a longer, slower timeline for phasing out the Medicaid expansion, turning it into a block grant, maybe with deeper cuts. But it also might have more generous tax credits for older, poor Americans than the House bill does. That's one way that they could say it's more generous.

GREENE: You know, just watching that event in Iowa last night, there is a reason that President Trump does this. That is the gear that he is comfortable in. He has not yet found a way as president to whip up support for policies and his agenda. And until he does, I think you're going to see him going back into a gear that is comfortable because he hasn't found that other gear.

INSKEEP: And Mara Liasson will be following him. Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.


INSKEEP: All right. The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has finished meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

GREENE: Yeah. And Kushner is attempting what so many before him have tried - to secure peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin has been following this story. Daniel, where are you?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I'm in Tel Aviv this morning.

INSKEEP: OK, great. So what did Jared Kushner do, exactly, during his visit?

ESTRIN: Well, he had two big meetings. He met Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. He walked into his office, and they greeted each other with a kind of awkward half-handshake, half-hug. Netanyahu has known Kushner since he was a kid. They're longtime friends, the Kushner family and Netanyahu.

And then late last night, Kushner was in the West Bank meeting with the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas. And in both meetings, Kushner heard from both sides about what are the most important issues they want to tackle and what steps both sides might be able to take next.

INSKEEP: I think we've just heard one reason why if you're President Trump you might think Jared Kushner is a great choice to do this because Netanyahu has known him since he was in shorts or something basically is what you're saying.

ESTRIN: Right. I mean, you know, Kushner may be in his 30s and with no Mid East peace diplomacy experience, but he is Trump's son-in-law and a close confidant to the president. And, you know, this is - this is a symbol. Kushner is coming here and telling the Israelis and Palestinians Trump is serious. He's serious on making Israeli-Palestinian peace happen.

INSKEEP: Daniel, got a tricky question here. Both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course, always say they want peace, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're ready to make the concessions that might seem necessary. Does either side feel that this is the right moment for progress?

ESTRIN: It's a great question. I mean, you know, peace negotiations have happened. The - presidents have tried and failed. But I think, you know, when you speak to someone like the former ambassador of the United States to Israel, Dan Shapiro, he says, actually, Trump has maximum leverage right now with the two sides.

No side - Israelis or Palestinians - no one wants to say no to Trump at this time. You know, Trump is unpredictable, so if you say no to him, you don't know what's going to happen. So this is the time, even though the U.S. says peace is going to take time, Trump might have a window now to simply say let's make some decisions.

INSKEEP: Just very briefly, is there broad excitement about Jared Kushner as the person who would try to be the peacemaker?

ESTRIN: Jared Kushner is still a fresh face here. Not many people know him. He said only a few words at the opening of his meeting with Netanyahu. And so the U.S. said that Trump - that Kushner will be back many times. And the Israelis and Palestinians will get to know him better.

INSKEEP: OK, Daniel. Thanks very much. Enjoyed talking with you.

ESTRIN: Sure thing.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin joining us today from Tel Aviv after Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law and presidential adviser, made his first visit to the Middle East in the role of peacemaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALT-J'S "INTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.