Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why You Are Wrong About Police Shootings #BaneLion

File under: For Great Justice

"Did you see what happened before the shooting?"

This question is invariably asked by those seeking to defend a law enforcement officer when there are allegations of excessive uses of force. Often, I would like to reply: "did YOU see what happened before the shooting?!" This question is, though somewhat understandable and almost excusable coming from the lay person, is highly non-nonsensical and betrays a limited understanding of justified use of lethal force. It is especially baffling when proffered by individuals who claim to "keep and bear arms" for personal defense and support the Constitution.

When Lethal Force Is "Justified"

In determining if one is justified in using lethal force against another, the standard is NOT whether the shooter was justified at the moment the altercation began or when he or she drew the firearm. The standard is if the shooter had justification to shoot at the moment he or she squeezed the trigger. Justification would be shooting to prevent imminent or immediate bodily harm or death, either in defense of yourself or someone else. In such a situation where a reasonable person would feel fear, lethal force is justified. However, when the threat ends or at a point where a reasonable person would no longer fear death or bodily harm, lethal force is no longer justified. This means that if you have a good reason to draw your firearm that you DO NOT have a hall pass to unilaterally kill someone.

Cops Are Not Street Judges

If this is the standard for everyday citizens, shouldn't the limitations for sworn peace officers be just as stringent if not more so? Well, turns out it is indeed. Police are required to use modes of force that have a lower likelihood of causing death to apprehend a resisting or fleeing suspect, before using lethal force as a force of last resort. Lethal force is authorized only when a felon is an immediate threat to officers and citizens, or the felon is fleeing and likely will be an imminent threat to others. That's it.

This means that at the moment the police officer uses deadly force against a suspect, if the suspect is not threatening or assaulting someone, or is not a dangerous felon in flight, then the use of force in that situation was not justified--meaning it is a crime. That officer has broken the law, should be stripped of his or her badge and tried in a court of law. Just as you or I would if we committed the same offense.

License To Kill?

What about situations where using lethal force IS justified? As mentioned earlier, this is NOT a license to kill. It is protecting your right to defend your life or someone else's with the amount of force necessary to end any and all existential threats. This means self-defense is the application of judicious force--not unlimited force. If one continues to apply lethal force against an assailant AFTER the individual has been sufficiently incapacitated then this transforms from a justifiable self-defense scenario, to an aggravated assault, attempted murder or homicide.

This should be no different for police. If a suspect ceases threatening behaviors and attempts to comply, or if the police use lethal force on an incapacitated target, that is excessive force and a crime. The officer has broken the law, should be stripped of his or her badge and tried in a court of law.

Where Do We Go Next?

The line of reasoning that breaking the law or resisting the imposition of force by the state (a.k.a. resisting arrest) is somehow a justification for abridgment of the Constitution and revocation of all rights without just due process is a bogus argument. The Constitution is here to limit government abuses and protect the rights of the individual--even when the individual is not respecting the rights of others. If we continue to make excuses for this behavior, the situation will never be fixed. Therefore, the first step to solving the problem is, as always, admitting that we have one to being with.

Police officers have a dangerous and difficult job. Holding them to higher standards of conduct makes it even more so, nevertheless we must. It is a tough calling, not for the timid, cowardly, incompetent or those lacking the most superlative moral character and judgement. Therefore, my solution to police excessive force is to weed out the bad cops who represent the uniform with dishonor

It Starts At The Bottom

The Constitution protects the rights of the accused. Police are not super-citizens above the law.

There is a shortage of well-qualified police officers nationwide and leading desperate departments to accept all comers. This is a grave mistake. There needs to be much stronger vetting and much more stringent standards regarding mental health and past allegations of domestic abuse or professional misconduct. Also, departments who employ a policy of only hiring applicants of average or below IQ need to abandon it in favor of hiring more discerning and judicious candidates.

Leading From the Front

What is indoctrinated in cadets in the academy sticks with them throughout their careers. Unfortunately, police training is decades out-of-date with changes in technology and crime, and out-of-touch with the community police officers must patrol. Police officers are being ingrained with a hyper-militarized mindset, leading to an inherently adversarial relationship with the community at large. This tension is highest in areas where crime and poverty is highest, and police resources are lowest.

Police officers need enhanced training to safely and effectively resolve encounters with persons undergoing a medical or mental health crisis. Departments must also audit their standard operating procedures for dealing with: domestic disputes, procuring evidence for warrants, when tactical raids are warranted, how raids are executed, encountering protesters/open carriers/citizens filming public servants, stops/detentions for non-violent crimes and other situations that frequently result in unnecessary injuries and fatalities.

The innocent should not fear harm will come to them at the hands of the state.
The wall-of-silence culture must stop. If you see something say something, should apply foremost to those tasked with upholding the law. In this vein, police officers should face stiff penalties for failing to report abuses of power or corruption. When there is a incident involving use of force by an officer, it should be investigated by a third party, NOT by the department itself. When officers or police administrators violate the public trust, they need to be fired, prosecuted and barred from ever wearing a badge again.

The Right Tools For the Job

When it comes down to an interaction between a public servant and a member of the public, it should never be a case of he-said-she-said. These encounters need to be recording in high definition audio and video. Officers should be outfitted with eye-view, body and dashboard recording devices that capture both video and sound, and there should be severe disciplinary action for not ensuring that such are operable before entering the field and recording during a stop. It has been state numerous times that this is a legal safeguard for the officer AND the community. There is no reason these are not standard everywhere.

Police should be highly visible and available in the community. Every patrol car should have two officers and every neighborhood should have officers walking/cycling the beat. A lack of presence leads to a lack of confidence in the police by the public, and a lack of backup leads to a lack of confidence in themselves by the police. This is a recipe for discord, fear, distrust, anxiety and paranoia. There can be no working relationship between the police and the community in such an environment.

Police should be trusted members of the community, not an occupying paramilitary force.
Officers on patrol, need better firearms and firearms training. This might seem antithetical to the sentiment of a post about excessive use of force by police, but it is nonetheless true. Police officers are notoriously terrible shooters who frequently miss a suspect standing right in front of them or wound innocent bystanders as a result of bad shooting habits. Moreover, entering a situation out-manned and outgunned ratchets up the tension and anxiety to an even higher level. Officers on patrol need to be able to confidently engage a potentially hostile suspect, and if necessary, shoot with accuracy and precision to end the threat quickly with a minimal loss of life or collateral damage. Further, if the common refrain is that "my Taser didn't work," isn't time to replace the Taser with something that works better?

Our Part

Ultimately the power to change this rests in your hands. What will you do?

The responsibility to improve this situation doesn't just fall upon the shoulders of law enforcement. The is a multifaceted issue that must be attacked from multiple angles. The first thing we must do as citizens is curtail the crime and violence within our own community, by refusing to remain silent out of fear. The lawless make the job of the law officer more difficult and dangerous, increasing the likelihood that one day that cop is going to misjudge a situation and harm someone who should not be. We have to root out the bad seeds in our neighborhood, not only to make them safer for ourselves, but also for those who maintain law and order.

We have to take our civic duty seriously. If you see abuse or corruption, record it and report it. If you have a mayor who doesn't hold the police accountable or a sheriff who doesn't keep a tight reign on his or her deputies, that person should be removed posthaste. Extreme poverty is a strong attractant of violent crime; politicians who criminalize person choice or who vote for job-killing taxes and regulations should also soon find themselves out of a job.

Obey the law yourself, provide for your own safety and security, and avoid involving the police when not necessary. Many people who die pursuant to an interaction with the police were individuals in a medical or mental health crisis, and probably did not need the police at all. Make sure that you and your loved ones are receiving the type of care needed to function smoothly in society. If someone is not a physical danger to another person, refrain from involving the police--whether they are physically/mentally ill or not.

Last year over 1,000 persons were killed by police. Calling the police should not be a risky proposition for a law-abiding citizen. If we stop making excuses and start making changes, one day it won't be.

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