November 25, 2014
In the aftermath of the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict
I feel the need to weigh in on the Ferguson, Missouri situation. As horrible and unjust as the outcome seems to many in that city, and in cities around the nation, to me it’s just the latest in a disheartening and increasing number of similar tragic shootings committed by police in, what they claim is, the performance of their duties.
While it may appear to some that the police are the criminals, or to others that the police are just doing their jobs, I think a bit of objective clarification is required.
The perception is that some police officers are acting outside their mandate, by committing acts of excessive violence. Unfortunately, I think the general public is not fully aware of just how much license and leeway the police have been granted in the performance of their duties where violence, or the threat of violence, presents itself.
In most States in the Union, and in most Canadian Provinces, a police officer can be found guilty of homicide only if it can be proven that the officer was acting in their own self interests, and not in the performance of their duties. If, in the line of duty, an officer’s personal judgement results in a death, even if it can be shown that the officer was incorrect in their assessment of the situation, the most that will happen is that officer will get a reprimand, or may be sent for further upgrading or retraining.
Any police officer answering a call involving reported violence, potential violence, or (in their view) risk of violence to either themselves or to the public, has been trained, authorized, and equipped to bring the situation under control by any justifiable means they feel is necessary. This includes the use of restraint, incapacitation, or even deadly force, as deemed necessary by the officer.
In their efforts to bring the situation under control and remove the threat of violence, the officer will order the perpetrator to stand down and submit. If the perpetrator takes any action other than immediate compliance, the officer has been trained, authorized, and equipped to subdue the perpetrator by any means deemed necessary, including restraint, incapacitation, or deadly force.
It must be stressed that the original crime or incident does not have to involve violence. It may be a simple misdemeanour, disturbing the peace, or even jay walking. But once the police get involved, they reassess the situation. If, in their judgment, the perpetrator seems bent on committing an act of violence, then it can get ugly real fast.
In other words, if you seem like a threat to the cop, in any way, shape, or form – it doesn’t matter what you think, or what the person recording the incident on a cellphone thinks – if you don’t comply immediately by doing exactly what the cop tells you to do, then they can, and probably will, either tazer you or shoot you.
And this is important – the officer won’t have committed a crime in the eyes of the law.
That’s how a kid carrying an altered replica pistol was “justifiably” shot dead by police officers when the kid refused to put the “gun” down when he was ordered to.
That’s how an unarmed black man, pulled over for a seatbelt violation, was “justifiably” shot after being ordered to produce his drivers license, but instead reached into his car (in this case, to get his drivers license).
That’s how an unarmed black man who pilfered some cigarillos from a variety store, was “justifiably” gunned down when he did not immediately lie down with his hands behind his head, when order to do so by police.
This official code of police conduct, be it called the Police Protections Act, the Police Services Act, or the Law Enforcement Act, sets the rules & regulations governing how police can, and can’t, deal with law enforcement. This code of police conduct is built into the very foundation of police practice, and is both defended and sanctioned by our courts of law, who assure us that it’s there to ensure both public and police safety.
That’s why so few police officers, when charged with over-reacting, or excessive force, are ever found guilty. The few that are, have usually been found guilty of acting in their own self interests out of anger, rage, revenge, or negligence. The rest, those who were exonerated, were found to be doing what they were trained, authorized, equipped, and allowed to do.
We cannot vilify all police officers who call on their training, judgement, and the tools of their trade when faced with potentially deadly situations. I know we’d all like to believe that police officers have been trained to defuse any violent situation with the least amount of retaliatory force, but in today’s gun-happy society, such is sadly not always an option. Police officers are, after all, only human.
And, it must be conceded, we are not always privy to the up-close dynamics of these tense, charged situations. What, in a photo or video, may look like an overreaction by the police may indeed have been an unavoidable use of force deemed necessary to prevent further violence.
Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that there aren’t police out there succumbing to their personal feelings. But, just as there are cops so full of hate, rage, fear (yes, fear) and racial bias that they abuse the power they wield, there are also cops who, in the toughest of situations, show compassion, tact, and restraint above and beyond the call of duty. Yet, despite the inflammatory news stories to the contrary, I believe that most cops are trying to do the best they can under trying circumstances. But, once again, they are limited to the tools, training, and tactics they’ve been provided.
As long as police are granted the powers to use their own judgement in choosing the level of force needed to handle a situation involving violence, or the threat of violence, and their choices are limited to aggressive or violent tactics, things are unlikely to get any better.
There is, however, one course of action open to us. If we wish to protect ourselves and our children from excessive or unjustified police violence, we must get our officials to change the official code of police conduct. Otherwise things are only going to get worse.
Here’s my take on it. I see the line as being drawn between situations that were violent before the police arrive, and those where no violence has been reported but that are perceived by the police to have the potential for violence. It’s usually when non-violent situations escalate into violent confrontations after the police arrive, that the public weighs in with outrage and anger. As mentioned earlier, this escalation is almost an unavoidable byproduct of the official code of police conduct, and results from officers following their training. The police are just doing what they’ve been trained to do, using the tools and tactics they’ve been provided – the tools and tactics we the citizens provided to them. We asked the police to protect us, and that’s what they believe they are doing. (For now, let’s not get into the debate of just who’s interests the police are actually protecting. I’ll leave that discussion for another day.)
It’s time that we provide our police officers with the civilized option to back away from confrontational situations that might be better defused through the use of non-violent tactics such as negotiation, reasoning, or bargaining. This would provide them with another tool in their tool belts for dealing with potentially violent situations, something less destructive and less controversial than restraint, incapacitation, or deadly force. The rule, then, would be for police to apply the least aggressive tactic needed to manage the situation.
It’s heart breaking to see a minor incident escalate out of control, until some innocent or unarmed person gets injured or dies. Let’s try to ensure that no petty theft ever again ends up with an unarmed person being shot by police. That no minor traffic violation ever again ends up with a cranky, uncooperative motorist being tazed. That no distraught mental patient ever again ends up being gunned down. That no elderly alzheimer’s sufferer ever again gets thrown violently to the ground and cuffed. That never again does a confused, upset foreigner who can’t speak English, end up getting tazed to death. That no gun-loving young boy, scaring people with a modified replica pistol, ever again ends up being gunned down by multiple police officers just because he refuses to stop playing.
It’s time that we get the official code of police conduct changed, in order to ensure that the level of allowed police action never again exceeds that of the crime.
In the meantime, until that day arrives, if you ever find yourself in a situation where the police are screaming at you to submit and comply, you’d sure as hell better do what they say! And pronto! No discussion. No explaining your side of the story. No arguing. No resisting or running. Just comply! Otherwise you could end up being forcibly wrestled to the ground, tazed, or shot. And “Justifiably.”
I repeat, folks. If the police think you may be about to commit an act of violence, and you don’t do as they say, THEY ARE ALLOWED TO USE FORCE!
I’m just sayin’.