San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)
Opinion writer

“Where the hell is the outrage?”

The answer to that question depends on who’s doing the asking.

If it comes from D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who’s retiring to become head of security for the National Football League, you can guess — correctly — that she’s referring to the city’s criminal-justice system, which she described in a recent interview as “beyond broken” and responsible for releasing repeat offenders into the community.

If the question comes from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, however, it could be directed at the actions of the same D.C. police department Lanier is leaving behind.

The concerns of both Lanier and Kaepernick deserve a sober look.

Washington Post reporter Clarence Williams looks back on the career of D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who announced that she will retire to take over as head of security for the NFL. (Whitney Leaming/The Washington Post)

Unfortunately, Lanier’s expressed concern about the justice system led to a war of words among city officials that descended to the puerile.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), in a news conference, went one step further than Lanier, channeling her resentment toward a criminal-justice system that she says splits accountability between locally elected and federally appointed officials. “There are certainly things that I would like to change about our system,” she said. “I wish we had a more accountable system.” In a phone interview this week, Bowser expressed concerns about lax federal agency oversight of GPS devices worn by released offenders, as well she should. The failure of federal agencies to notify D.C. police of GPS violations, as city authorities have pointed out to me, is a clear threat to public safety.

Bowser’s initial critique, however, got under the skin of Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield, who fired off an email to Bowser’s deputy mayor for public safety, Kevin Donahue, saying he is “exhausted hearing [Bowser] mouth off politically” about the criminal-justice system. Satterfield cited Bowser’s failure to attend meetings of the independent Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which she chairs. The CJCC oversees the city’s criminal-justice system.

Rallying to his boss’s defense, Donahue fired back.

Charging that the tone of Satterfield’s email was “taunting,” Donahue told the judge, “it is offensive and condescending (perhaps even sexist) for you to characterize the Mayor’s statements as ‘mouthing off.’”

Nanny nanny, boo boo. So off the point.

“Where the hell is the outrage?”

For Lanier, it is the released offender who was, as The Post reported, supposed to be on GPS supervision but went on a crime rampage after the tracking system became inoperable. Outrage should be directed at the courts and federal agencies that deal with sentencing and detention and monitoring of offenders under judicial supervision, she would argue.

Kaepernick’s outrage also has in mind the District’s criminal-justice system. But his is laser-focused on the D.C. police department and the incident last Sunday night in which, Kaepernick said, “Terrence Sterling was murdered, unarmed black man,” following a police chase.

Stories of lax enforcement and oversight of violent offenders by federal agencies such as D.C.’s Pretrial Services Agency and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency have appeared in the media, along with accounts of questionable judicial decisions involving defendants. Those accounts have stirred up intense discussions, but not to the point of outrage.

Sterling’s shooting touches a different kind of nerve. It is the kind of tragic event that can produce resentment easily grown into white-hot anger.

Sterling, reportedly riding his motorcycle erratically early Sunday morning, was chased by two police officers in a cruiser, who were told by officials to break off their pursuit, according to Fox 5.

The police car reportedly boxed in Sterling and his motorcycle near Third and M streets in Northwest Washington — which would violate a prohibition on using a police vehicle as a barricade. Accounts vary about what happened next.

“When the officer was exiting the passenger side of his marked police cruiser to stop the driver, the motorcyclist intentionally drove into the passenger door and the officer fired his service weapon,” according to a police department news release.

Witness Kandace Simms told Fox 5’s Paul Wagner, “The motorcycle was trying to speed off and drive away, but he couldn’t because he was kind of caught in between the sidewalk at the curb and the police car. So the police were trying to open the passenger side door and he couldn’t because the motorcycle was right there, and I guess when he couldn’t open the door, he rolled down his window and shot twice.” She told Wagner she heard no commands coming from the officer in the cruiser.

The officer who shot Sterling reportedly turned on his body camera only after the shooting.

Bowser told me that officers with body-worn cameras will now be required to acknowledge over the radio that they have activated their cameras when responding to a call. Both officers involved in the chase are on administrative leave, and information about the case, including witnesses and camera footage, has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the mayor said.

Bowser also confirmed that she had called Sterling’s family to express the city’s condolences and to assure them that the shooting investigation will “proceed in a thorough and impartial way.”

Another trial for the city’s system. Will it bring justice or outrage?

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