This article is going to steer clear of statistics because they can be skewed to create self-fulfilling prophecies because they are at the root of the problem that exists. They shouldn’t be.
Take the most recent incident out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana where police shot a black “suspect.” The video of that incident, at first, shows an egregious use of deadly force by police. But when it was discovered the dead black “suspect” had a gun in his pocket, suddenly the “egregiousness factor” decreased. In Minnesota, a black driver is pulled over for a cracked tail light and ends up dead because the police see a gun in the car (legal, by most accounts). Black man with a legal gun in the car? Must be up to something criminal…
To illustrate the silliness of statistics, one website- Killedbypolice.net- maintains a database of all police killings. Through the first six months of the year, they count at least 543 (I lost count). At first glance, one would say there is a problem with trigger-happy police. But the website leaves out three very important facts:
- Under what circumstances did the shooting take place? To what extent was the dead person a serious threat to the safety or life of the police officer or others? Was the suspect armed? Was it a hostage situation?
- Was the officer white, black, or Hispanic? Since the controversy is white officers shooting/killing minorities, this is an important piece of information.
- What is the disposition of the case? What did the investigation reveal? Was the officer(s) punished? Are there charges pending?
Some on the Right had the expected hair-trigger, knee-jerk reaction to Governor Mark Dayton’s statement in the Minnesota incident that if the driver had been white, he would likely be alive today. Of course, Governor Dayton speaks from a position of hindsight and we will never know if that is the case. But to dismiss the statement out of hand is also a form of benign ignorance. There is among some police officers an assumption that a black suspect or a black pulled over for a traffic stop has a greater chance of being involved in some criminal activity…because they are black.
The Right’s ignorance at times rivals the ignorance on the Left who start with the supposition that white police officers are out to kill blacks. The fact is that neither side is correct. There are some bad cops- bad training, personal prejudices, whatever…. and unfortunately there are some (think: BLM) whose only existence is predicated upon the belief that an extremely small minority of officers represent the vast majority of police officers.
This writer believes that the problem lies not so much in the the actual killing of black suspects, but the killing of black, unarmed suspects and, equaly important, the aftermath. Of course, we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of police officers who have to make split-second decisions. Given the number of interactions daily between police and the public, they do an overwhelmingly fantastic job. For example, using that database cited above, if you click the link to the actual story, one finds that many cases of police shooting deaths involved an armed subject. For July, they list Micah X. Johnson as a police killing! That is why statistics are misleading.
Instead, we need to address a perception by the black community when it comes to these incidents- that they do not receive justice. This leads to the extremes perpetrated by the BLM people of institutional racism- the courts and the system are slanted in favor of police officers.
Take the older case of Ferguson, Missouri and the Michael Brown shooting. After hearing evidence, a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved. We know now that the BLM rendition of events that night was not accurate and that came out in the grand jury findings. But, we also know that the officer may have handled the situation differently. Instead of pursuing Brown on foot, he could have called for back-up which would have been there in seconds and Brown arrested for petty theft. Is this a question of bad training, or an over-reaction by the officer, a split-second decision gone wrong, or what? We will never really know because Michael Brown’s shooter never had his day in a real court (I don’t count grand juries because both sides are not always presented).
However, not every police shooting deserves its day in court. As stated above, not every person killed at the hands of police is innocent by virtue of their skin color. In an overwhelming number of cases, the police acted correctly to the situation because either their lives or the lives of others were in imminent danger. So let’s just ignore those cases. They’re great for statistical purposes that lead nowhere.
But in the cases where there is a hint of police wrong-doing, courts- not police review boards or the Justice Department, or even grand juries- should be the trier of facts. A jury of one’s peers in the community should decide the innocence or guilt of an offending police officer.
To illustrate a propensity of the police to protect their own, the Supreme Court recently denied review of a case out of North Carolina. There, in a small town named Mocksville, officers had complained to state officials about alleged police misconduct and racial discrimination in the treatment of minority suspects. The Supreme Court rejected the case on First Amendment grounds, but the underlying facts are disturbing. Once the police department learned of the request, the officers were demoted. It is actions like this that reinforce the perception that the system is stacked against racial minorities.
Juries- grand or petit- are not perfect. BUT, they usually get it right. Ferguson is a perfect example where they got it right, in my opinion. But, there certainly are other cases where the officers received way too much of the benefit of the doubt and little, if anything, was done.
And let’s look at where the system worked- South Carolina and the case of Walter Scott. Stopped for a broken tail light, he ran from the officer who pursued the suspect and shot him in the back. The officer was fired from the force and charged with murder. His trial is set for October of this year. Were there race riots in the streets of North Charleston, South Carolina? In fact, many of the residents there disapproved of BLM trying to take advantage of the situation. Why? Because justice was being served!
Not every officer who shoots and kills a suspect should be dragged into court. Not every one of those killed at the hands of police are innocent, unarmed racial minorities. But, not every police officer is automatically presumed innocent because they wear a uniform. And those who are guilty should be tried and if convicted, treated as if they were not wearing a uniform at the time. Murder requires premeditation; manslaughter not. At the very least, manslaughter charges should be brought against those officers who clearly violate the trust Americans of every color expect from police.
A few examples of justice being served and letting the chips fall where they may would go a long way to restoring that trust. And no matter where those chips fall, both sides need to accept that verdict. In the interim, we should thank the vast majority of our Nation’s police for the incredible job they do daily, sometimes under the most difficult of situations. By the same token, we need to realize there are some- a small minority- who do not deserve to wear the uniform and, in fact, deserve to be locked behind bars.