Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Serve and Protect

Here is what I believe. Police officers should be allowed to protect themselves and others with everything up to an including lethal force. Here is what I also believe. Police officers should use extreme caution and ultimate prudence in using lethal force. It should always be a last resort, always. Because there is no do over from dead.

I believe most police do just that, and risk their lives daily to uphold the law. But I also believe there are some who do not exercise nearly enough caution or prudence. And people who should not die do die because of that. And, again, there is no do over from dead.

Lethal force should not be used because an unarmed black teenager stole some Swisher Sweets. It should not be because an unarmed black teenager mouthed off to a cop. And it should not be because an unarmed black teenager grappled with that cop.

Should Mike Brown have done those things? No, probably not. But are those things are worth giving Mike Brown a death sentence? No, definitely not.

The question here is how and when and why lethal force is used. And the question is who gets the benefit of the doubt in this country. Is it an unarmed black teenager walking in the middle of the street? Is it the white sports fans setting shit on fire after they win a football game? Is it a bunch of white college students mad their favorite coach got fired? Or the white tea party militia dressed in combat gear with rifles pointed directly at federal law enforcement? There’s a theme here, if only I could put my finger on it.

People will point at the protesters and the small percentage with violent tendencies and say, see, this is what happens. See, this is why force is necessary. See, this is why they’re dangerous. They’ll use it as justification for their worst assumptions about people different than them. But what they don’t see is the reason. The anger, the hopelessness that is deeply embedded after enduring years, decades, centuries of assumptions made just like that. Does that excuse the lawlessness? No. But it puts it in context. Those scoffing at the reactions fail to see the chicken-and-egg conundrum in those stereotypes.

Reading Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony about how he felt threatened – which I do not doubt he did – conjures up age-old racist tropes about thugs and brutes. He may not be aware he has them, but read his own words and they are there. I mean, at one point he even said, “it looks like a demon.” A demon. He also compared Mike Brown, who is 6’4, as much bigger than him like “Hulk Hogan.” Darren Wilson, it should be noted, is also 6’4. The question again is why, why he was so scared of this unarmed black teenager.

In the end I’m left with a deep sadness at the way we value lives, particularly those of minorities, in this country. An unarmed black teenager is dead, and no one will be held accountable for it. I hope all the reaction and protest and righteous anger about the grand jury decision in Ferguson leads to greatest understanding. That it will make us examine those assumptions and reevaluate what it takes to take a life. But my fear is that it will only continue to drive us further apart.


Helena said...

Thank you for this informative article. As a South African I am unfortunately so aware of the dangers of racial stereotyping. And I also know that it can be overcome if people are willing to try. Always appreciate your writing - from the fun tank tops to the serious issues.

Anonymous said...


Tristen said...

Bottom Line ...

Police Officers are Damed if they do and possibly Dead it they don't.

No one knows what they would do in the same circumstance. Most of us don't deal with criminals all day and night. Cops CAN and DO abuse their powers. But none of us were at the scene of this tragety nor were we in the Grand Jury room hearing evidence. We should hold back on judging things we have limited info on.

Sheba said...

I'm reading you from Mexico, where we are currently carrying on a series of protests for a sadly similar reason: police brutality. 43 students kidnapped and possibly murdered. 11 protesters arrested for no reason, then sent to maximum security prisons. And then a whole bunch of our population saying just what you mentioned "see, this is why force is necessary, this is why they're dangerous". What you wrote about is more universal than you imagined, I think.

Anonymous said...


Police officers are profesionals, they're trained to deal with situations like this one.

They just can't answered to a threat or dangerous situation like any other person.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. As someone said yesterday, never stop writing.

Chirper said...

To Anonymous who replied to Tristen:

The fact remains that we did not hear the accounts of 60 witnesses and judge their credibility in person. The grand jury did.

The fact remains that Missouri by statute grants police officers extraordinary leeway in terms of perceiving danger to themselves and/or the public, thus permitting them to use their weapons in situations barred in other jurisdictions.

The fact remains that Missouri grand juries consist of 12 members with 9 agreeing on an indictment, whereas most other states have grand juries of 23 members with only a majority needing to agree on an indictment.

The fact remains that the grand jury had to sift through conflicting eyewitness accounts regarding an incident that unfolded over no more than 90 seconds.

I can't say I'm in a position to second guess this grand jury.

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing article. You nail it, in so many ways. The essential truth, being, that many people in our society simply DON'T value the lives of people of color (not even a bit). They wish them dead, or, in abject poverty, incarcerated, or otherwise suffering.

The racism that infiltrates every aspect of our society definitely shaped Wilson's (distorted) perception of Brown. And, it explains why so many people are praising the grand jury decision and saying that the thugs had it coming to them, that Wilson was victimized, that black and brown people "cry" racism all the time, etc., etc. It's disgusting and makes me question how much progress we as a society have made.

Rachel R. said...
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Rachel R. said...
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azinthesun said...

"Darren Wilson, it should be noted, is also 6’4. The question again is why, why he was so scared of this unarmed black teenager. "

This is true and Officer Darren Wilson also had a gun. Photos showed that his so-called facial lacerations were very minor.

The next day a homeless man in Ferguson stole a canned drink from a convenience store and police were called. Two officers arrived in a patrol car and
told him to stop, he looked wobbly on his feet, they opened fire and killed him. They didn't shoot him in the leg or knee but directly in his chest. He was about 10-12 feet from them. Someone recorded that event on their cell phone. I get that they were scared (?) but why not shoot in his knee or legs? Totally out of control. No taser was used b/c "it's no guarantee to stop anyone".128

Tristen said...


Police officers and anyone taking a firearms class are taught to Shoot to Kill. Never shoot a gun unless you plan on killing the person. TV and movies are responsible for people thinking it is easy to shoot someone is the hand or leg. It's not. You have to shoot someone in the large areas of the body to make sure they are hit. Police with handguns are not snipers sitting on a roof top looking through a rifle scope. They may have just 1 shot and they are trained to Shoot to Kill.

The height of any person is useless when you are faced with someone you believe has a weapon. Second guessing the Grand Jury is pointless. It might have been a unfortunate shooting, but if the evidence was clear it was murder, then the officer would have been indicted.

azinthesun said...

If you saw the video, you wouldn't think this individual who was shaky on his feet, would be able to harm the two police officers. The man had no gun, at least it wasn't visible and it seemed to be an example of brute force. Just my thoughts. I am not a police officer but just as Congress people state there is no Global Warming but they're not scientists so I am stating that they could've used another tactic.

azinthesun said...

There were 12 jurors on the Grand Jury: 9 whites, 3 Blacks. To not indict, only 9 jurors have to vote that way. I wonder what the break down was for indictment versus no indictment?

I would have more confidence in the conclusion of no indictment if Blacks had at least 4 jurors. Ferguson has a majority Black population. Is a GJ supposed to be made up of your peers? Or is that only regular juries? Just asking.

Catrin Jones said...

Also regarding the riots. If you hear any fellow LGBT folks wondering why they are rioting or condemning them for rioting remind them that these riots and the Stonewall riots were because of the same reasons. Because some overzealous cops target specific groups they hold prejudice toward. And remind them how movies whitewash the Stonewall Riots, they were just as violent and angressive. On top of that remind them that one of the points of Pride Parades is to honor those who stood up to injustice at Stonewall. It makes me sick when I see fellow LGBTers acting disgusted or unsympathetic towards the anger people of color express towards a system that does not treat them like human beings.

live soccer said...

Most of us don't deal with criminals all day and night.its very danger.Cops CAN and DO abuse their powers.