No Person is Above the Law

Really? Are we sure about this?  In 2018 police in the United States shot and killed 998 people.

photos from Luther Bottrill on Unsplash.comHow is it that policemen and policewomen in the U.S are allowed to shoot and kill people, even unarmed people, whenever “police think their own lives are in danger?”

Just think about this for a minute.

Think about the young black boy, Tamar Rice, age 12, playing in a park who was shot and killed seconds after a Cleveland cop arrived. Tamar was murdered because the young man waved a toy gun at the officer. A precious life lost in seconds!

When I was that boy’s age many of us played on the street or in back yards with cap guns, squirt guns, and even air pellet guns that looked like real guns. None of us died back then. What’s different now?

Certainly not just racism! I heard racist language and saw far more racist acts when I was young than nowadays. Nor is the reason that real guns back in my day wouldn’t have killed a policeman. In big cities like Philadelphia in the 1960s, those guns did kill policemen.

Here’s what I think.

The major reason for so many more police shootings of innocent victims is because of police policy.

if you are cop and you think your life is in danger you are entitled to kill someone, even if they are unarmed, and you will be judged not guilty—by a group of your peers.

You know what’s wrong with that policy—the policy of police everywhere?

(1) This policy sets a bar that is way too high. As a result, this policy totally ignores any efforts to prevent killings by police.

(2) This policy sets some people above the law, but not others. It is haphazardly enforced and too often results in discrimination and/or death of innocent people.

A Bar Way Too High

If a policeman or policewoman fears for their own safety, they have just seconds to respond. With many crimes, especially those involving chases of suspects, there will be a tons of adrenaline pulsing around in their bodies. How reasonable will their fear be?

Too often those who also are in fear are the upset victims who believe the police are trying to harm them. Just as no one who is drunk or upset should be allowed to drive a car, no one who is drunk or upset should be allowed to carry a gun. That includes police!

Nothing about the policy of “shoot if you’re in danger” accounts for the fact that it always takes at least two people for a murder to be committed.

How could the bar be lowered? By setting a different policy—one which we all know and follow, “Take care of yourself first before you attempt to help others”.

Millions of us are reminded daily of this policy when we board airplanes, “When the air masks drop, put on your mask first, then you child’s mask”. 

This is what firemen do in emergencies. They put on protective gear and survey the fire.

Firemen don’t race up to danger and then leap out of their trucks running towards the fire. Police should not have to do that either when they are called upon for an emergency.

What Should Happen?

Let’s say someone sees a black boy with a gun near her house. She fears he is bent on robbery. She calls police. The 911 operator asks where the boy is. 

Let’s imagine police have technology such as Google Earth or high quality binoculars so they can figure out a safe way to approach the caller without making themselves targets of the boy.

Let’s say the police then go into the woman’s house by the back door and they see the boy. From there if the situation looks dangerous they can choose to call for backup. Yes, doing that might cost taxpayers more, but isn’t saving a life worth that cost?

And yes, this is a lower bar, it takes longer and might cost more, but it is far less likely to result in another heart-breaking senseless murder.

Punishment That’s Not Equal to a Crime

Too often mentally ill or mentally impaired people are the ones killed. They are extremely angry, ignorant of the danger, or aware of danger and in fear for their lives.

One case I often think of is the Shooting of Kuanchung Kao, an Asian man who came out of his motor home in Rohnert Park, California with a long wooden stick. Kao was shot dead in his driveway by police. Kao had been racially insulted and harmed in a bar. He was un-typically upset and drunk.

Surely if the police had removed themselves to a safer distance, Kao’s death might not have been the result. 

A Story of Unequal Punishment

A policy of “shoot if you fear for your life” is unjust. Punishment is not applied equally to everyone. Some of us are “above the law”.

Many years ago, I was called for jury duty for a murder case. I was chosen to be an extra juror.

Because there was construction going on the courthouse, I had to ask the judge to be excused.

I explained that when I was a child, doctors had told my parents that I was “a little bit deaf” and the noise outside that day would be too much for me.

A prosector with a hard-bitten face jumped up to complain an exasperated voice, “Your honor! Don’t we have devices in the basement that could ‘fix her‘?” 

I asked the judge for permission to speak. Granted! I said I wished there was a device I could ‘fix me’! But many doctors had said that hearing aids would not help me hear better. 

The judge rebuked her and  dismissed me. I was enormously relieved that day that I didn’t have to judge a young black man who might get the death penalty. 

Curious though, I read more details about his case in a  newspaper after the trial ended. The defendant had shot someone in LA. He then was let out on bail and came north to the Bay Area in California. 

At a gas station near where I first lived when coming to California and was familiar with, the accused man had shot and killed another man. The defendant thought that man was harassing his girlfriend.

It turned out the murdered man was apparently teasing the accused man’s girlfriend with a super soaker gun.

A toy gun!

What the cop got away with after he shot the young boy in the park in Cleveland, this young man didn’t.

Why Police Need a New Policy 

“Shoot if you fear for your life” is a terrible policy. It puts police in harm’s way and often results in unnecessary deaths. 

Nobody expects firemen to leap out of their trucks and dash into a burning building without protecting themselves first and assessing the fire’s dangers. 

So why do we demand that police run toward every dangerous situation involving a suspected individual before police can even assess the danger and decide how to best protect themselves. 

A better dictum than “Protect and Serve” to ask of policemen and policewomen is to  “Protect Yourself First—Then Protect Others.”

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Raoul A. Martinez on 03.16.19 at 7:07 pm

Very Good Nancy. Right on!! I understand the point you are making. RAOUL

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