An illusory “national dialogue” is at hand, all sorts of shouting and bullets flying, mostly at black people it seems, but if we don’t align ourselves with reason and unify our efforts the fervor will fade away as it has with every other outrageous social issue that permeates our newsfeed week by week. Let’s try to sort through a few of the talkings points together. We can avoid nebulous topics surrounding Mike Brown and reduce the racial component so we may drive at the real issues of substance here. To be clear, I am not seeking to minimize the overarching racial component but including it all quickly serves to convolute the controversy and allows opponents to undermine the effort.
I’d like to start with the man shot to death on the 19th, caught completely on film. My initial reaction was shock and appall at what appeared merciless and to some extent surreal, at least in the behavior of the black gentleman; even being familiar with the not uncommon method of suicide known as “death by cops.”
The horror was in how resolute the officers involved were about gunning him down within moments of arriving. The issue that arises to me, is not about race (in a city comprised almost 70% “African American” and a crime rate considerably higher than the national average, it isn’t any surprise most of the crimes are committed by blacks, purpose of this being we can exempt the if and why of crime rate by race, for the sake of staying on point (still being conscious of the grossly disproportionate racial makeup of the police force, arrest records, etc…), it is about the accountability of the police force, a topic we will find is splintered enough on its own to keep us occupied.
Instinctively, I am baffled as to why trained officers consistently fail to demonstrate any impressive marksmanship in tense situations. What training are they enduring that consistently results in a barrage of bullets hitting “targets” in the head, abdomen, neck, and hands (I’ll only humor a “center of mass” argument accuracy is >50%)? Are they not trained to incapacitate first? In a firefight, fine, scale to the level of the threat, but when the opposition is wielding anything short of a gun, two shots to the hip or leg should be protocol. I guarantee to you I could pop you in the hip from ten feet away. Nonetheless I don’t doubt what was going in those officers heads “goddammit!”, because no one wants or needs this.
Going deeper and thinking further, I do actually find myself on the side of the police in this instance. The thing about having protocol is that it can’t uniquely cater to every scenario but it must be nonetheless effective in all of them. The officers were already aware they were dealing with an armed suspect that was apparently waiting for their arrival, with any experience it is reasonable to expect a candidate for suicide in which case the individual is not going to give up until meeting success. That is enough to write off the strange readiness upon arrival, guns drawn, not expecting negotiation. Do I find it reasonable to immediately shoot to kill the man in a hail of gunfire? Absolutely not. But that isn’t my armchair decision to make.
Considering the aforementioned crime rates I encourage us not to link this to Mike Brown or a larger issue, it may all be coincidence, there were plenty of crimes committed in Ferguson before this all started that we had no trouble ignoring. Instead, I want to use this opportunity to address another delicate issue about police accountability and what I consider to be the real underlying issue, or at least one we can address more directly. Let’s end the killing now and then we can dig into race relations.
You may have read about this racist prick in the news, thank goodness he has been…suspended?
It is no surprise and hardly unreasonable that cops look after their own. Let’s be fair, becoming an officer of the law is a dangerous undertaking in itself, a career path that can radically change your life or the lives of others at any moment. Naturally, safeguards must be put in place to protect them from chaos and chance. If one blunder or misunderstanding could have you disbarred, who would apply? Shit happens and we can only train you to do your best, we’re all human. That considered, the notion of having their decision making be scrutinized and regulated from an outside party, as it seems it should, is in actuality a truly complicated proposition. After years of dedication, honest or not, the livelihood of the officers in the case above should not come down to what we all think of how he did in a moment that we pay them to not experience ourselves, so we don’t have to decide whether to take someone’s life, if it is necessary or not. We pay them to do their best.
This leaves room for things to run rampant however, as in the case of Dan Page above. His thirty five years on the force will leave him with a very nice pension. The financial path of a cop can be surprisingly lucrative. Many go on to retire around fifty and are set quite comfortably for life. Anything can happen between then and now though and to lose that entitlement after any number of years on the force is an immense loss. To prevent this they have become adept at sweeping things under the rug, moving you to a desk job, or suspending you with pay until the heat dies down next week. There is very little worth losing tenure over.
I’m aware I am towing a line between two sides here. I do not wish to convince you of anything, I merely hope to supply you with as many facets worth your consideration as possible while still keeping a goal in sight. Many of these points I was granted insight on and wouldn’t have regarded on my own, others simply aren’t being discussed at all despite being relevant contributing factors.
While I am not opposed to compensating their valiant efforts, better safeguards must be put in place that protect good officers from the chaos that they admirably expose themselves and simultaneously defending us from corrupt men that exploit what really probably shouldn’t be an internally regulated institution. We must protect their capacity to maintain peace, without giving them the power to define what it is. It has become ever more apparent that decades of sloppy liberal legislation and naive public outcry has left the police force walking a thin blue line with their hands tied. Their ability to act is so legally inhibited in some cases, while entirely absent in others, that it is a wonder they can get anything done.
A brief digression: I was once chatting with a respectable officer about the steady legalization of marijuana which they have largely opposed. They have their official stance on the matter for the media that is obviously antiquated and unscientific and then they have the real reason they want it illegal: it’s a gateway arrest.
If you are pulled over you have a litany of rights that may not be infringed. Great, but that means so do the drug cartel, human traffickers, ganglords, all who, upon being picked up, have to consent to very little. They find it whimsical how powerless the law is to impede on them.
Unless, that is, their car happens to smell faintly of a certain herb.
Yes, he told me that the means by which they convict for many larger crimes, all start with suspicion of possession. Because without it, they can’t do much more than check your registration, even if they know exactly who you are or what you’ve done. This is quite the slippery slope on either side but hopefully you can appreciate the job they are trying to do and while it seems a nefarious way of going about it, what else can they do? We want them to do their job, protect us from lunatics and rapists, keep our goods out of a robber’s trunk, but we’ve neutered their abilities to the point where they have to rely on loopholes that seem so petty. This all points much higher than us or them. A legal system run amok. Our nation is hundreds of years into a litigious arms race so bloated that absolutely nothing is accomplished, pitting factions against one another that should naturally be allied (fucking Nixon!).
So how do we go about this efficiently? Well, it does happen to be the 21st century, how about something that maintains objectivity in every scenario, failing to ever take a side or falter under pressure…While I understand the Orwellian concerns that go along with strapping cameras to every on duty officer, I can’t deny how effective it has been in implementation. And hell, if we all so adamantly support, almost enjoy, getting to film cops doing whatever they may be doing, doesn’t this seem like the obvious next step?
This serves to protect us as much as it does them. Discretionary clauses could be put in place so officers aren’t accountable for acting on everything the camera sees. A simple example being some pot smoking teenagers, which many cops are indifferent towards, but a case could arise where he is reprimanded for not pursuing a crime that was filmed being committed. Just as the NSA can make legitimate arguments for being internally regulated, so can the police, but no facet of the government should be left to their own devices, that is too dangerous for human nature. The film should be stored on a third party server so it isn’t their discretion how or when a relevant clip is released to the public, it should all be accessible, to any interested party. There is always going to be those that exploit a system that leaves room for it. We must allow the “LEO’s” to do their job but we must find a way to police the police objectively. This all starts with transparency.
Transparency that has not been present in the case we opened this discussion with, evidenced by the disparate account the police gave prior to the video being released. It hasn’t been present amidst the Mike Brown debacle, and especially in the trial of the man charged with bleeding on police uniforms (you’ll need something stiff to stomach this one, read at the risk of your own sanity).
Transparency is dangerous unto itself, it necessitates an educated public, beyond simply the second amendment and knowing the rest of your rights, it is learning to appreciate ambiguities, the privilege of information. We’ve proven as citizens that we cannot be entrusted with awareness of everything the government participates in. We’re a melting pot of young and old, bigoted and open-minded, hillbillies and wasps, intelligent and illiterate, all acting on our personal interest, grasping based on our biased experiences. The scrutiny that goes into selecting a jury should be applied to who gets the loudest voice when it comes to these national debates. There are those that love or hate the cops blindly, there are those that hate black or white people unapologetically, we cannot all be representatives or we’ll continue to bottleneck at the door leading to progress. Is this a call to get out and vote? No, that system has been compromised by our own passivity. All I ask is you educate yourself, question your own opinions and understanding, bring dimension to the discussions that you engage in.
If you are on the side of Israel or Palestine, the Fuzz or Mike Brown, you’re already wrong. We don’t live in a black and white world, it is time to start behaving in full color.
Luke Miller is a writer, geologist, neuroscientist, humanist, stoic nd audiophile who just wants to make the world less tolerant. He’s terribly biased but holds himself to journalistic standards of honesty and it certainly helps that he’s always right.
More ‘deep’ thoughts from De’Lunula:
Do Banks Steal from You?
Eulogy For Your Internet Fame
LinkedIn is as Jealous and Insecure as my Ex-Girlfriend.
Complicated Books Summarized in Haiku Form