Witnessing Ferguson: Variation in witness statements driven more by systematic bias than uncertainty
The Washington Post - 12/08/2014
How do people interpret the facts so differently, even when they observe the same event? With the recent grand jury decision not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, national attention has returned to the ambiguities of the witness statements that play such a large role in grand jury decisions. The New York case is especially frustrating because the events were so well documented by video, yet nonetheless, interpretations are highly polarized, just as they were in the aftermath of Ferguson.
Named after a 1950 Kurasawa film, the “Rashomon effect” is a well known problem in criminal justice, where self-serving biases of participants and witnesses color their testimony, even if unintentionally. This phenomenon has played out in full force in the Ferguson case, where apart from the ill-recorded physical evidence, no record of what happened exists apart from the witnesses reports.