Monday, February 8, 2016

He Did It

Counterclaims to civil suits are common. But this one seems to add insult to injury. In case you’re not familiar with the case, the family of Quintonio LeGrier is suing the city of Chicago over the death of their son at the hands of a police officer. What makes this case different is that the officer, Officer Robert Rialmo, is countersuing the LeGrier family, for “assault and infliction of emotional distress.” The officer is asking for $10 million in damages.

“LeGrier knew his actions toward Officer Rialmo were extreme and outrageous, and that his conduct was atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the complaint states. It goes on to say that by “forc[ing] Officer Rialmo to end LeGrier’s life” and Jones’s innocent life as well, caused “Rialmo to suffer extreme emotional trauma.”


“There is no question that he suffered very extreme emotional trauma and stress as a result of what Quintonio LeGrier did,” said Joel Brodsky. “When I say he feels extremely horrible about her death, that’s an understatement. But the bottom line is that it was Quintonio LeGrier who forced him to shoot.”
Why the Officer Who Killed Quintonio LeGrier Is Suing Him
I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that the case isn’t going to turn on whether or not LeGrier’s actions constituted “force” in the way we normally understand the term, even if we understand that Officer Rialmo felt that he had no other viable option than to pull the trigger. If the countersuit goes to trial, I expect that first and foremost on people’s minds will be whether or not it makes sense to sue the family of a person that the officer shot, or if it will just seem mean-spirited or the department going after people who stand up to it.

The idea that LeGrier forced Officer Rialmo to shoot is of more concern to me, because it represents the creeping influence of what I tend to call “terrorist logic.” It’s the sort of thing that you see all the time in the movies - the terrorist makes some demand, and when the authorities are slow in meeting it, kills or threatens to kill an innocent person, and lays the responsibility at the feet of whomever didn't do as they were told, saying, basically that they are being “forced” into an action they don’t want to take because their instructions aren't being carried out. It's a very common trope. And it’s seductive because it removes responsibility from the person who chooses to pull the trigger and places it elsewhere.

But there is always responsibility in choosing to pull the trigger, even in cases where it is decided that there is no culpability in having pulled the trigger. I’m not on the bandwagon that police officers in the United States have collectively decided that it’s open season on black men, so while I understand there are times when officers pull the trigger out of bias and times when they pull the trigger out of sloppiness, I realize that sometimes, pulling the trigger seemed like the best choice at the time. I know that if someone were coming after me with a baseball bat while I was armed with a pistol, I’d likely feel a pressing need to shoot them. But I’d also realize that I had other choices - including letting them hit me - which strikes me as an undesirable choice, but not an impossible one. And so if I decided that the other guy had erred in bringing a bat to a gunfight, I’d have to own that choice. In my own mind, an unwillingness to own that choice means that I have no business putting myself in a situation in which I would have to make it.

The line between responsibility and guilt, which I think should be fairly bright, is often blurry, sometimes to the point where it’s impossible to make out. That’s not good. We should work at making it clearer, so that people can make decisions and not feel the need to run away from them, or attribute them to others.

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