Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to Have a Shooting

It's a simple recipe.

One) The Supreme Court has ruled that deadly force is justified if an officer is attempting to stop a crime, protect themselves or halt a crime in progress.

Two) It is considered appropriate among some white parents to teach their children that blacks are inherently less intelligent and more prone to violence than whites, and a prominent conservative pundit has gone on the record equating being "strong" and "scary" to being armed.

Three) Most police officers, including many of those who patrol predominantly black neighborhoods, are white.

I don't find it all that difficult to put these three things together and understand why we have a number of shootings. Actually, given these three factors, it seems that the number of shootings of black people by white officers could be a lot higher than it actually is.

And let's add in another pair of factors.

Four) Despite the fact that police officers are trained to deescalate potential violent confrontations, we typically do not hold them accountable for using that training. Therefore, if an officer places themselves into a position that necessitated deadly force to extricate themselves, this doesn't enter into the calculation of culpability.

Five) If the standard is the officer's subjective feeling of being afraid of someone, indictments are going to be rare. After all, you have to prove that the officer is lying. Unless you have some pretty damning evidence, that's a tough row to hoe.

And so it's not surprising that few indictments are handed down when police seriously injure or kill someone who turns out to have been unarmed.

All of these factors were in place well before Ferguson happened. While there is a lot of outrage over the incident and its aftermath, some justified, some self-righteous, the fact remains that this, too, shall pass, and if we don't deal with the factors the lead up to it, the situation is never going to improve.

So... what do we need to do?

Firstly, black communities need to have police officers who come from those communities. Part of this going to be lessening the hostility that some black Americans feel towards blacks who go into law enforcement. Officers who are familiar with the community they work in, and know the people in it, are more likely to know who's a threat and who isn't.

Secondly, the fear-mongering needs to stop. Maybe removing fear as a justification needs to happen, or maybe people need to understand the underlying causes of the statistics they quote. The myth of black pathology has taken root deeply in the United States, and it's going to have to be dealt with. If someone has grown up hearing about how frightening and dangerous a group of peole are, and fear is a justification for deadly force, it hardly seems surprising that there would me more instances of deadly force than a clear-eyed look at the situation may decide are warranted.

Thirdly, when we look into these issues, we can't just start with the moment immediately before the shooting. In the shooting of Kajieme Powell, for instance, when the police officers drove up, even though they exited their vehicle with weapons drawn, they didn't leave themselves room to recover if things got out of hand. Things escalated quickly, and Powell was shot to death by the officers when he advanced on them at close range.

These steps aren't like to likely to prevent, or even delay, the next police shooting or beating. But they will likely delay future ones, and move us to a point where we don't have such a sharp racial divide when it comes to the relationships between police departments and the communities they work in.

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