According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police — defined as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” In all but three of these reported killings, officers used firearms.
Liberals and conservatives alike should be outraged at the frequency with which police in this country use deadly force. There is no greater power that we entrust to the state than the license to take life. To put it mildly, misuse of this power is at odds with any notion of limited government.
I realize that the great majority of police officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty. Most cops perform capably and honorably in a stressful, dangerous job; 27 were killed in 2013, according to the FBI.
Every week, somewhere in the US, there’s a story of some kind of police activity that leads people scratching their head, or saying ‘That isn’t right’. It’s an issue that’s been around as long as police officers have and has become a cliche, accepted without question. The problem is that it’s a problem that’s only getting worse, not better, and it’s a problem that’s not being addressed.
The problem seems to be increasingly exacerbated by the ‘threat’ mentality of police officers . Officers are seeing every interaction in terms of threats, and a need to control the situation. This domination mind-set invariably starts things off on the wrong foot and leads to confrontation and distrust. In 2 years we have had Michael Brown, 18, was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri; Ezell Ford, 25, was killed by a police officer in Los Angeles; Frank Alvarado, 39, was killed by a Salinas police officer; Eric Garner, 43, was killed by a New York police officer; and Marlene Pinnock, 51, was brutally beaten by a California Highway Patrol officer. All of these victims were of color, and all were unarmed.
So, what should we do? Surely, crime rates and society’s evolution has made “life” in the streets hard. Before they even don their uniforms, police officers receive hours and hours of training about the appropriate use of force. At the nation’s police academies, they learn how to evaluate situations where force could be an option and when it’s illegal. By the time officers are patrol-ready, they know how to use their firearms, batons, and stun guns. Yet, in response to the chokehold killing of Erin Garner, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton has called for the “retraining” of his officers. Training is, of course, essential to law enforcement. But it would be a serious and dangerous error to shrug off these deaths and beatings by cops and simply attribute them to inadequate training.
So, if more training and federal investigations are not the answer, what is? I want to hear back from you?
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