And here we go again. A white policeman kills an unarmed black man, and this time by shooting him eight times in the back as he was running away. While running away might be annoying, it also means “NOT AN IMMINENT THREAT.”
Are we beginning to see a pattern here? And, if not, do we need new glasses? Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of good, well-meaning, non-psychotic police officers. But why do there seem to be so many who don’t meet those criteria? What we learned from the famous Ferguson report (and if you haven’t read it yourself you should; it’s a real eye-opener and is available at the DOJ website), is that entire police departments can become entrenched in blatantly oppressive and hateful practices. What we’ve learned from Ferguson and other incidents is that way too many people, usually white men, are hired as police officers who have no business being anywhere near any form of weaponry or power.
But what we’ve also learned from these incidents is that way too many policemen have no idea of what warrants lethal force. So, for the education of such officers (who of course aren’t reading this, but maybe someone will pass it along), here are some actions that do not warrant the death penalty:
1. Running away from police. In and of itself, definitely not a death penalty offense. On the other hand, if you KNOW you have a violent offender, call for backup, then WAIT for backup, then attempt capture in as non-lethal a manner as possible. See, guys, determiing whether the system gets to kill someone is the job of the court system. Remember the phrase INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty?
2. Resisting arrest: annoying, yes. Aggravating yes. Often probably insulting. But again, not a death penalty offense
3. Mouthing off to police. See 2. above.
4. Selling illegal, individual cigarettes.
5. Selling illegal, individual cigarettes, plus mouthing off to police. Nope, still not a death penalty offense.
6. Broken tail light. What’s he going to do if he gets away? NOT get it fixed?
7. Not paying child-support. Again, what’s he going to do if he gets away? Not pay MORE child support?
8. Being 12 years old and holding a toy gun. The child in this case was dead within two seconds of the police arriving on the scene. That’s not even enough time to assess the threat. If there is one. Which there wasn’t.
9. And, of course, the obvious, not being a white male. Definitely not a death penalty offense.
You get the idea. I think we need some new training for police along the lines of “It’s okay if he gets away. Consider the offense. We’ll catch up with him later.” Too many officers seem to think it’s their duty to assert the power of the state right now. The famous — or possibly infamous — OJ chase is a perfect example of a, well, fairly measured response. (Did we really need ALL those police cars following one guy who barely went over 30 miles an hour on the Los Angeles freeways? I mean, where’s he going to go?)
Let’s train our police to chill out a little. So the guy gets away for the moment. That’s what manhunts are for. You know, an organized group activity. The case of the Boston bombers is a good case in point. No one tried to play hero, even though it was practically the definition of exigent circumstances. Yes, there was plenty of gunfire, because the suspects started firing and lobbing explosives and they still managed to bring one guy in alive. (Mainly because he ran over and killed his brother.)
So how about a nationwide review of officers with questionable performance records or backgrounds. Why do officers with really awful histories in previous assignments get hired at all? And how about a review of ALL police departments to improve the degree to which they reflect the diversity of their communities? Call me cynical, but somehow I doubt that Ferguson is an isolated case.
But most of, all before you start shooting or strangling, or whatever, consider the offense. Then take a few deep breaths, then count to ten. Slowly.