The police, defense lawyers will claim, thought they were about to be shot, and took the only course of action available to them within the split-second time frame. With this in mind, prosecutors will scrutinize prospective jurors for signs of sympathy with the police or even for a general lack of skepticism toward law enforcement methodology. "This case will be very carefully watched," says TIME columnist Jack White. "What's really on trial here is this: What is the duty of police officers in minority neighborhoods? To protect the population or to police them?"
New York's police department has been under increased scrutiny in the past several years; high-profile cases of police brutality have brought unwelcome attention to Mayor Rudy Giuliani's zealous law-and-order practices. The rising tensions in New York between minorities and police officers spurred a judge to relocate the trial to Albany, which is overwhelmingly white, rather than continue the proceedings in the Bronx, where the shooting occurred. Taking the trial out of the city, says White, is an injustice for everyone involved. "Moving this case was a slap in the face of the people of the Bronx it seems to suggest they aren't capable of providing a fair trial." Whether or not it ultimately proves to be fair, this trial will help shape future police procedures and definitions of excessive force in New York and nationwide.