'Django Unchained' actress was out of line

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I'm frustrated by the story of "Django Unchained" actress Daniele Watts' claim of racism after being detained by a police officer.

I think it is true that police officers, in general, are more likely to be suspicious of black people than white people in specific circumstances, and I know the phenomenon of "driving while black" happens. I have clients who have been pulled over, questioned and detained without any obvious probable cause.

It reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago in which Hollywood producer Charles Belk was detained by police officers for six hours until cops realized they had the wrong "tall, bald-headed black male." Such an event is demoralizing and humiliating, and it is evidence of how ingrained cultural biases affect law-abiding citizens. It's the kind of action that gives black people reason to be distrustful of cops.

Time to reconsider cops' 'deadly force'?

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

Several recent high-profile cases involving cops who have shot civilians have acquainted us with the nuances of self-defense, deadly force and the standard of "reasonable fear of imminent great bodily harm or death."

This is the threshold for justifiable homicide for civilians, and so far it has also been the focus of the inquiry into whether Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson acted appropriately in firing his gun in the direction of Michael Brown and killing him.

However, for law enforcement officers -- the men and women we count on to stop crime and apprehend criminals -- the threshold for use of force, including deadly force, is much broader than for civilians.

The question is: Are cops allowed to shoot people who are resisting or fleeing felony arrest? The answer is "maybe."

Confederacy of Amnesia

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I joined Anderson Cooper and Jeffrey Toobin to discuss the acquittal of a father accused of killing the drunk driver who caused the death of his children. I voiced a concern that there may have been a confederacy of amnesia in this case, where the sympathies of witnesses and investigators left holes in the case that enabled the jury to reach an easy acquittal.

Ferguson and the lessons from Trayvon Martin

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion

I believed we had learned lessons from the George Zimmerman case in how to better handle cases like the Michael Brown shooting. Zimmerman, you'll recall, was charged with shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. I was Zimmereman's lawyer. That case caught national attention for the shooting itself, but almost more for the way law enforcement was perceived to have mishandled it and for the racial animus it exposed over how young blacks are treated in the criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that all of the right people have learned all of the right lessons from that case. Now, as the days drag on in Ferguson, Missouri, it seems that some involved, particularly in the law enforcement hierarchy, are not handling the Michael Brown case better than the Zimmerman case. In fact, this time it's being handled worse.