This is what I get for reading the internet late at night…
I have a Facebook friend who is a cop so I have occasion to stumble upon conversations among his cop friends and their supporters. Tonight’s topic was a Washington Post article that showed that only 10% of the people shot by police officers were unarmed. Never mind that 10% still feels like a high number to me.
The response that caught my attention dug deeper into those 10% and pointed out a true but, I believe, irrelevant fact about violent conflict: an unarmed person still has the means to kill through the use of the their hands and feet. In other words, we are all armed at all times.
In response, I would point out what I believe is a significant point that is never considered when evaluating contact between cop and citizen: the contact is almost always initiated by the cop and is almost always unwelcome by the citizen. And even if the citizen is completely innocent (or just presumed so by the American justice system), he most certainly is defensive. Anybody who doesn’t believe that has never instinctively touched their brakes when they saw a police cruiser in their rear view mirror. So in the grand balancing act between law-abiding citizen and law-enforcing officer, human nature is already working against the citizen.
Now take that defensive posture to the next logical step. Imagine, under the most innocuous circumstances, what you would do if a stranger approached you, confronted you, and grabbed your wrist. Would you not instinctively pull back? Congratulations, you just resisted arrest. Google “New York” and “resisting arrest” and you’ll find an article I read recently about how the vast majority of arrests (of people who are both innocent and guilty) include that charge. And how the NYC police commissioner wants to make it a felony. If you get arrested and you’re not happy about it, you’re now a criminal.
Now imagine the circumstances of your contact with police wasn’t so innocuous. Imagine you were actually in a criminal state of mind. You might have a combative attitude, correct? Not excusable behavior certainly, as I’m not meaning to justify rude or criminal conduct in any form. But certainly a suspected criminal who is defensive when contacted by police could hardly be blamed for being less than compliant, could he? And defensiveness on it’s face isn’t deserving of lethal force, is it? Yet these are precisely the circumstances where police officers start looking to justify violence against the citizen.
If that wasn’t already clear from your previous life experience, consider what the police commenter on Facebook pointed out: even if a suspect is completely unarmed, if he is in close contact with a police officer then he has easy access to a deadly weapon, the officer’s own firearm. In other words, if a police officer contacts you, and you resist in any significant way, then he is justified in shooting you, in order to prevent you from stealing his gun and shooting him first. The gun that he brought into your reach in the first place.
Don’t think that’s what he would say in court? Or do you think it would actually get to court?
Funny thing about police-involved shootings: the best witness against the police officer is either dead, or accused of felonies (including resisting arrest). Find a single case, anywhere in the United States, where a police officer’s testimony was discredited without physical evidence. In the real world, the burden of proof against police officers isn’t beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s beyond all doubt.
My point in all of this? When dealing citizens, police have the advantage of initiating the contact, of being armed, of being trained, and of being supported by the law. They have the luxury of time, of back-up, of non-lethal tactics. Therefore, they are not in a position to complain about needing the benefit of the doubt when it comes to shooting unarmed citizens.
Certainly being a cop is a difficult job, but that is why they are paid well. In my many years in the job market I’ve had various difficult jobs. Not one of them was I willing to work an extra 20 hours a week just to pad my pension. Yet it’s a point of pride among the many cops I’ve known over the years, how they work themselves to exhaustion in order to get paid more when they retire. Does that sound like a job that is so dangerous that it deserves a built-in shoot-first mentality?
Which is not to say that I’m a cop hater. Or a criminal in any form. But just don’t invite me to any dinner parties anytime soon. I might just come over to your house, initiate an unwelcome conversation, then accuse you of being armed with a deadly weapon since you got too close to the weapon I happen to have strapped to my belt. But that’s just because I was trying to protect and serve.