Wearing badges and carrying guns on their hips does not entitle police officers to commit murder, yet this happens all across America. Despite training, use-of-force standards, and policies governing when a weapon should be used, case after case of shooting deaths appear on the news weekly. And in addition to shooting deaths, unnecessary fatalities at the hands of the police are sometimes excruciatingly obvious, as in the case of George Floyd.
A recently disclosed case from Louisiana is illustrative. The police reported that a black man, aged 49, died as a result of his car striking a tree, but after two years of delay, body-cam footage recently released shows that it was not an auto accident that caused death, but police beatings, taser use and restraint techniques. In essence, the murder of barber Ronald Greene was a police-lynching without a rope.
Here in Sonoma County, a driver apprehended while operating his own car (thought stolen by Sheriffs), was forcibly yanked through his open window and died after his head was slammed into the car’s door frame. A number of officers stood by and watched while this took place.
Comedian Chris Rock has condemned policies about “bad apple” cops by comparing them to airline pilot policy. “Ya know, American Airlines can’t be like ‘Most of our pilots like to land. We just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains. Please bear with us.’” He’s right, of course. Brutal cops who like to murder people are unacceptable in all cases.
Many people who go into law enforcement are motivated by a sincere desire to help people and protect lives. It’s a dangerous and uncertain profession not for the timid. But as police forces and methods have increasingly incorporated military-style weaponry and procedures, it has undoubtedly attracted recruits attracted to such power. When combined with sociopathic personality traits such as sadism, cruelty and racism the combination is deadly.
While enforcing the law and apprehending criminals is basic to policing, the idea of preventing danger to others is subordinate to succeeding. There’s no need to put innocent bystanders in peril by racing at 80 miles-an-hour in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, or wantonly shooting multiple times at a car driving away. Such activity also heightens the tension of enforcement and no doubt the surge of adrenaline plays in role in brutal police responses when a suspect is captured.
There are entire classes of offenses which are better left ignored than risking escalated police action that kills. Given the publicity surrounding deaths related to “being black while driving,” it’s little wonder that black men flee police screaming at them to “put your hands on the fucking steering wheel!” Given the sirens, lights, and pointed guns, is there really any need for the verbal abuse and screaming? And all this over, say, a broken taillight?
Human nature being what it is, we can predict our problems. The Ten Commandments list them all: theft, lust and murder. Knowing this is who we are won’t stop it, and neither will our laws or the police. If we don’t develop different ways of dealing with our problems, unnecessary deaths will continue to grow. Police carry guns because guns are popular in America, and that needs to change. In any case, police should never be judge, juror and executioner.