by: Frederick Foote ((Header image is sourced from Campaign Zero, a campaign to end police terrorism, mass incarceration, and community violence.))
A few modest proposals to address the epidemic of police bias and brutality in the United States…
As the national debate on the use of deadly force by police in the United States grows more intense and volatile, it is time to look at some of the key issues in the argument and try to fashion some possible resolutions. The first factor that is evident from the recent killings of black men and women, often unarmed, by law enforcement officers is that many of these officers claim to be scared to death of blacks. Every law enforcement officer’s defense of these murders documents the officer’s alleged fear. The officers apparently fear black males whether they’re large or small, holding their hands high or at their sides, standing in place or fleeing, armed or unarmed, obeying officers’ instructions or ignoring them. In their sworn testimony, they claim to live in fear of the people they are supposed to protect.
It is not just blacks many police officers claim to fear. The emotionally or mentally disabled, and those alleged to be such, apparently send cold chills of fear down the backs of many officers. This fear is evident in the numbers of shots fired. Officers do not stop at one, two or three shots, but use the opportunities to engage in target practice that empties their weapons into the objects of their fear.
According to The Washington Post, police officers have shot and killed 706 people in the United States so far in 2016, and 990 people in 2015. Ninety-three of these 2015 victims were unarmed. In comparison, there were 28 prisoner executions in 2015, and 15 to date in 2016. Our law enforcement is administering the death penalty on a rather impressive scale: about 25 “street justice” killings for each court-approved death. These law enforcement “death agencies” are documented as a violent and deadly threat to the public. These killings undermine the ideal of police officers as peacekeepers and protectors. While the judicial death penalty is in decline, the law enforcement death penalty thrives. Whether police officers act out of fear, aggression, or racism they are unquestionably a deadly force. In fact, our law enforcement officers are arguably the most deadly in the world.
All police, even the scared, or over-aggressive, racist, or poorly prepared, are trained to shoot at the torso in the area of the heart. The argument supporting this training is that if it is necessary for an officer to shoot he/she must make the maximum effort to eliminate the threat. Officers shoot to kill even if the threat is a child, a clearly emotionally distraught person, or a person offering a threat that only the officer sees or feels. It is this subjective fear that is used to justify officer’s killings of children, the disabled, and, the unarmed.
For the most part, the investigations into the killings of black Americans by police officers are conducted by the officer’s own department. There is often a second “independent” investigation conducted by the District or County Attorney’s Office that works closely with the police agency being investigated. The results are that almost all police shootings are ruled justified. Often, law enforcement officers lie for each other to the degree that it is routine. The lies are part of their signed reports and sworn testimony. This culture of deceit appears to be essential to the operations of law enforcement agencies nationwide. Even more despised and feared by police officers than blacks or the disabled is the officer who refuses to lie or who exposes the lying culture. Ask Frank Serpico or any other police whistleblower who violates the law enforcement Code of Silence.
Assuming that the above is a fairly accurate assessment of our current situation, why would anyone in their right mind give deadly force weapons and a license to kill to these frightened, violence prone, merchants of mistruth? Why would any rational government create an environment without sufficient checks and balances on these officers’ behaviors? It is a recipe for deadly discrimination against some of our most vulnerable people. These fearful, deadly, aggressive, ill prepared, sometimes racist “protectors” are primarily protecting each other and their enviable salaries and pensions. We, the public and the law enforcement officers, would all benefit from removing deadly force weapons from our law enforcement. The officers would be forced to deal with the public on a person to person basis. The officers would be compelled to develop the skills required to interact with the public without the use of deadly force or the threat of the same.
When an armed officer interacts with a civilian, there is an inherent inequality that may intimidate the civilian and embolden the officer. Communications between the officer and the civilian may be impaired by this threatening imbalance. Removing the guns from our frightened law enforcers could improve public safety, improve the public perception of our police, and vastly improve law enforcement communications with the public. The public might respect the true bravery of the unarmed officer and feel the need and desire to protect or support the officer, if it were necessary.
At least five other industrialized nations (Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland and New Zealand) have unarmed law enforcement officers and far lower crime rates than the United States. Officers in these countries have access to firearms in situations where firearms are required. Many readers may not want to see unarmed police officers and others may think that this modest proposal is unrealistic and unobtainable. And both of these assertions may be true. Indeed, there may be no fixing our broken law enforcement systems. However, let us at least give our protectors, our law enforcement officers – not their unions or associations, but the officers themselves – a glimpse of a different, less fear-evoking, violence promoting, deadly approach to policing.
Given a choice, a few officers might accept the idea of a public protection-oriented law enforcement agency that has as its first concern effective communication with the public they serve. There may be just a few officers who would willingly and eagerly shed the burden of carrying deadly force weapons in daily meetings with the public. A few such officers supported by individuals and groups outside the law enforcement community may be a significant factor in promoting the disarming of our police.
As strange as it may seem, the impetus for change in our deadly force police orientation may be most effective when it comes from both the victims and the persecutors.
For the most part, the politicians will follow and rarely lead. Many of us have friends, relatives and associates who are law enforcement officers. We need to learn more about unarmed police forces and share that knowledge with these officers. We don’t have to make the argument or argue at all. We should raise the idea of disarming police forces in the United States and listen carefully to the responses.
I have presented two modest proposals. One, that we disarm our police forces and, two that we engage them in the process of disarmament. It is essential to the health and unity of this nation that we end the deadly, violent culture of our law enforcement agencies. If we do not act soon, and effectively we will live with escalating violence oppression and increasing numbers of state sanctioned murders.
To read from more from Frederick Foote, from his consequential political commentary to his unique and affecting brand of fiction, click here.