I composed this entry weeks ago, and then sat on it instead of posting it. But I can’t really sit on this issue any more, now I that I see the story of John Crawford, a black man fatally shot by police in Ohio. The man was carrying a gun in a Walmart store, and police responded to a 911 call. The gun turned out to be toy, but it was apparently realistic looking from a distance. However, there are two considerations here: 1) Ohio is an open-carry state, meaning it was not against the law to carry a real gun in the store. In fact white people do it without getting shot. 2) It appears from the video that Mr. Crawford dropped the toy gun before being shot by police.
A grand jury failed to indict, and the city released a statement that “The officers followed accepted law enforcement training protocol in their response to the report of an active threat in the Wal-Mart store.” Apparently officers are trained to shoot black men after they drop their gun on the floor.
It sure seems like it.
I’ve been stewing on this for while, composing parts of it in my head, and then forgetting most of them. Then as I was finishing up with work today, I saw the following tweet, and accompanying link from @redeyechicago:
And I’m sure most of the developed world heard about what happened in Ferguson, MO no long ago. And lo and behold, this tweet also popped into my timeline:
So it’s time to talk about police, I think. Police, or cops, are a necessary part of society, unless we want to live in anarchy. I want to be clear that I am not anti-cop. I appreciate the job is dangerous, challenging and often thankless. I appreciate that men and women are willing to put their lives on the line in service to society, often for sadly low pay (you don’t go into policing to get rich). And many cops are good people. I don’t say “most”, because I don’t know that to be true. I don’t that it isn’t true either; I lack facts either way. But it’s no secret that the power that comes with a badge and a gun can attract the wrong kind of people into the line of work. People like the guy in the first tweet above, if the allegations are true. And like many of the people I saw in action in Ferguson, MO.
And the whole thing in Ferguson started with a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed 18 year old boy. All the facts in that case have still not been revealed, so I am not going to try to pass judgement but it definitely doesn’t smell right to me. But Mike Brown is hardly the only person to be shot to death by police. In the US alone, more than 400 civilians were killed by police in 2011. In Australia there were 6, in Germany there were 6 and in England and Wales there were 2 for the same year.
Police are effectively above the law. You’re compelled to follow orders from police, with no immediate recourse. You can’t defend yourself against the police. If you find yourself victim of mis-treatment at the hands of police, you’d better hope there is solid proof on your side. When it comes down to your word against the word of a cop in court, the cop’s word will usually win. District attorneys are loath to prosecute the police they work with on a regular basis, and on whom they depend to gather and maintain evidence and to testify in court.
Police officers should not be above the law. They should be held to a higher standard. They are the guardians we entrust with our protection. If they can’t hold their temper, or keep their cool in a threatening situation, then they are probably in the wrong career. I believe every officer-involved shooting should be tightly scrutinized, and should be investigated (and if necessary, prosecuted) by people independent from those with whom police must work on a regular basis. No Blue Wall!
I should point out that this piece, to which I linked earlier, offers a possible explanation for why there are so many police shootings. The gist of it: because they’re afraid of getting shot since there are a shitload of guns in America. So if we want to cut down on police shootings, maybe we also need to cut down on how many guns are out there on the street. Just a thought.