The social control of a police shooting
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On the morning of October 12, 1995, Edward Wright, a young black man, ran out of his family’s home unclothed. Wright overwhelmed the first officer to find him and that officer fired on Wright, who died of his wounds. The purpose of this study is to examine three questions about the aftermath of the shooting. First, large crowds of angry African Americans gathered immediately and then again for days. A riot seemed to be imminent. What actions were taken by leaders to prevent violence? Second, the legal review of the potential criminal case against the officers was conducted by the local district attorney. Why did he not file criminal charges, or even refer the case to a grand jury for review? Third, a civil suit was filed against Athens-Clarke County. Why did Athens-Clarke County pay a settlement in the civil case when no criminal case had been prosecuted? An ethnographic case study of the aftermath of the shooting was conducted, allowing identification of the details of the specific events which contributed to the three outcomes. Donald’s Black’s theoretical perspective was used. Black argues that we can understand conflicts by examining the status of adversaries, their supporters, and their detractors along five dimensions of social space: the vertical (wealth), the horizontal (integration), the corporate (organizational), the symbolic (cultural), and the normative (social control). This research shows, first, that specific peacemakers, counterrioters, with cross-cutting ties with both African Americans their adversaries worked to prevent violence. Second, the district attorney acted as a settlement agent with closer ties to the officers than to African Americans when he made a decision not to refer the case to a grand jury. Third, the county attorney for Athens-Clarke County supported the plaintiff when he demanded their insurer settle the case after the plaintiff made a Monell claim, which might have resulted in a higher award in the event of a trial. Thus, the research shows that the status of the participants influenced the outcome of the three conflicts in the way that Black’s theory predicts.