Discretion and Its Discontents
Edward Garner and Willie Horton are symbols of the bitter politics of crime and justice in contemporary America. The controversies surrounding their lives reflect the deep divisions in American society about the apparent failures of the criminal justice system. For some, the system has failed to promote justice by discriminating against the poor, racial minorities, and other powerless people. For others, it has failed to control crime, leaving the law-abiding majority vulnerable to dangerous criminals.
Edward Garner was only fifteen years old when he was shot and killed by members of the Memphis, Tennessee, police force on October 3, 1974. 1 Officers Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright spotted Garner climbing a chain-link fence. Suspecting him of burglary, they shouted "Police, halt." When he did not stop, they shot him in the back of the head, killing him. Garner was 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighed between 100 and 110 pounds, and had in his possession a stolen purse with $10 in it.
A suit on Garner's behalf eventually reached the Supreme Court, and in 1985 the Court declared unconstitutional the "fleeing felon" rule under which the Memphis police had shot Garner. Tennessee v. Garner was one in a long line of Court decisions placing procedural restraints that are designed to control the discretion of police officers and other officials.