I was on an 18-day road trip with my family, visiting colleges for B and seeing friends and family where time permitted, having a blast, blissfully unaware of all but the biggest world news feeds on my phone. Then, toward the end, as I walked into a convenience store for my umpteenth Monster drink to help me stay awake during my stretch of the daily driving, my eye fell on a headline in a West Virginia newspaper. Something about tanks in the streets somewhere in America.
What the hell?
I bought the paper and that’s how I learned about what was going on in Ferguson, Missouri. About Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager who was shot by a white police officer and about the demonstrations against police violence which were then met with police in tanks and army gear aiming military grade weapons at the citizens of the town.
Yesterday I reblogged a post by Ipledgeafallegiance about the situation.
Though I’m beating a dead horse, because everything has been said about it that could possibly be said, I’ve just got to put in my two cents.
We’ve all heard the following three statements over and over again, not just in this case:
- The police are supposed to serve and protect the public.
- The first priority is the safety of the police officers.
- An officer can use deadly force if he reasonably believes that his life is in danger or that he is in danger of serious physical harm.
Notice how the she second and third statements kind of contradict the first one?
It makes sense that the police should serve and protect the public. It’s the public who is paying their wages through taxes. I, for one, don’t pay taxes so the police can bully, brutalize or even kill me. Oh, but those black folks in Ferguson are all poor and therefore they don’t pay taxes? Well, I don’t care. I don’t pay taxes so that anyone else can get bullied, brutalized or murdered, either, regardless of their economic status or skin color.
So, now that we’ve established that in a democracy the police are supposed to serve and protect the public, and that that means all the public, let’s look at the next two statements.
The notion that the first responsibility of an officer is his own safety is in direct contrast to the notion that he should serve and protect the public. Because the best way for an officer to ensure his own safety is to stay home, in his pajamas. If he puts on his uniform and goes where there is trouble, he may encounter some potentially dangerous situations. That’s part of the job. Being a cop requires a certain amount of bravery.
Now, an officer’s safety can be greatly improved by training. And if we decide that an officer may use deadly force if he reasonably believes that his life is in danger or that he is in danger of serious physical harm–the use of deadly force of course being a euphemism for killing someone–then he should bloody well better be trained to determine whether he is actually in serious danger.
I worked at a Dutch police training school for almost nine years. Granted, I was merely the librarian, but I did get a good idea of what the training consisted of. Most of the training, including the firearms training, was aimed at resolving situations without violence. And when that wasn’t possible, at least with a minimum of violence. American police training doesn’t seem to be even remotely similar.
In the twenty years that I have lived in America, I have heard of plenty of cases where cops have shot unarmed individuals, or individuals waving a knife, and I can’t remember an incident where it seemed to me that the police had absolutely no other choice than to kill the person in front of them.
Michael Brown was an unarmed teenager. Sure, he may have been behaving erratically or aggressively; he may even have charged the officer right before he killed him–I haven’t followed all the various scenarios exactly. What I have pieced together is that Michael Brown was walking down the middle of the street, being a nuisance to car traffic. Was that a reason to kill him? If the police officer was scared to confront him, he could have asked for backup, meanwhile staying at a safe distance and watching the boy in case he did become a direct threat to any civilian. Once backup arrived, there’s no reason why a few sturdy cops, properly trained, couldn’t have overpowered the boy.
The second man who was shot had been behaving erratically, according to the lady who phoned it in, and when the responding officer arrived, the man brandished a knife and approached him. Again, the officer could have called for backup. And even if there was no time for that, or if the guy kept coming and backup hadn’t arrived yet, a properly trained cop could have shot him in the shoulder or the leg, thus removing the immediate threat until backup could put him in handcuffs.
It seems to me that in this country pretty much anyone can enter the police force as long as he can tie his shoes and doesn’t wear his cap backwards.
Sure, there are lots of cops who are basically good, intelligent people. But there are also lots of thugs and idiots in uniform. And anyway, good guys or thugs, smart guys or idiots, that’s beside the point. They’re all highly untrained and giving them the authority to use deadly force can turn any of them into killers. That’s what they are when they kill people unnecessarily. They are killers. An untrained police force does not serve the public, it is a danger to the public. No amount of spin can hide that.
In fact, it could be argued that in this country, when a poor black man is confronted by a police officer, he has at least as much cause to believe that his life is in danger or that he is in danger of serious physical harm as the officer does.
So again, if we decide that police officers can carry and, if necessary, use deadly weapons, we as a society have to demand that they are appropriately trained. But instead they are given even more deadly weapons, military grade weapons even, and tanks.
Hell, when the American army gave the Mujaheddin similar military grade materials back in the eighties they were about as trained to use them as the American police are now. And look what the Mujaheddin turned into: the Taliban. But at least at the time America was helping the Mujaheddin wage a war against Russia. What war did the American army think the police needed to be waging?
What the hell were they thinking?
So now the government, represented by the police, are in the streets of Ferguson, a town in the heart of America, intimidating the people, and the governor has even set curfews, thus–as John Oliver put it–imprisoning the people of Ferguson in their own homes.
Which brings me to my last point, or question. Has anyone heard from the NRA yet? Do we know where they are at present? Does anyone know why it’s taking them so long to get to Ferguson with all their guns, to stand with their fellow Americans now that their worst fear has become reality: the government waging war against its own citizens? Did their bus have a flat tire? Have they lost the megaphone? Was it particularly tricky to get babysitters?
Or does this situation and the NRA’s complete silence prove that the NRA and all its members are full of shit? And just an offshoot of the KKK? That they aren’t worried about the government at all? That their real fear is that poor black men will rise up and threaten their lily white wives and daughters?
Nah, that would be an outrageous accusation. It’s got to be a flat tire. Right?