GIST: "In a famous experiment, subjects were instructed not to think of a white bear for five minutes but to ring a bell if they did happen to think of a white bear. The subjects rang their bells on an average once every minute. To see an example of this phenomenon in action consider the New York Times’ sustained coverage of wrongful conviction scandals in Brooklyn. The star of this long-running series is retired New York Police Department detective Louis Scarcella. Fifty of Scarcella’s old cases are under review; at least ten have been overturned. In the TimesScarcella has the status of a white bear. Wherever a Brooklyn exoneration story starts, it will bend back toward Scarcella before it ends. There’s nothing unnatural about this. Readers and editors love a monster. So, a Scarcella story will get some space; another might not. Still, this augments a feature of American criminal justice commentary that seems very strange to people who take the word “safety” in “public safety” seriously: Our enduring conviction that safety can be pursued by asking “Who?” after a disaster, and skipping the “Why?” and the “How?” The gravitational pull towards “Who” exerted by white bears like Scarcella is on display in the Times’ skeptical article describing the response of Eric Gonzales, the Acting Brooklyn District Attorney, to the allegations against the detective. The Brooklyn prosecutors, according to the Times, “made a curious acknowledgment.” According to the article, “ even though they had agreed in recent years to dismiss seven murder convictions that Mr. Scarcella helped obtain, he had done nothing wrong.” The Gonzales version of this conclusion quoted in the article strives to add a nuance:   “We just never found any allegations of specific misconduct — there’s not been a smoking gun.” That didn’t satisfy Times reporter Alan Feuer. As Feuer wrote, “By stating on the record that it has no evidence that Mr. Scarcella committed any crimes, the district attorney’s office has relieved itself of a handful of unpleasant consequences.” Maybe. But the Acting District Attorney, by clearing Scarcella, has intensified the need to find out what actually happened in the Scarcella cases. If your system generates ten wrongful convictions (and leaves ten actual perps running free) when everyone is acting properly, then examining the weaknesses of your system is an emergency. Your system constitutes a tragedy waiting to happen. Interested in preventing future wrongful convictions? Then you have to move past the Times’ approach (“It’s Scarcella, hang him”) and the Acting District Attorney’s (“Scarcella cleared, nothing to see, move along”) and account for the many other factors that, safety experts would warn us, contribute to criminal justice errors and, if adjusted, could contribute to preventing them. A wrongful conviction is an “organizational accident.”  Many small failures, no one of them independently sufficient to cause the event, combine and cascade, and only then produce a tragedy. Even if you stick with the “Who” questions, you have to recognize that—as none other than Louis Scarcella himself once pointed out—he didn’t do it alone.