The following article is a reminder that no matter how unhinged the advocate is, occasionally there is a kernel of rational thought hidden among the ravings.
The go to response for police, these days, is to employ stand off technology; tasers, capture nets and bean bag rounds rather than old fashioned engagement. I track the change as a response to the Branch Davidian debacle in Waco. As a result of Waco, police changed from being risk takers to risk adverse. Decisions that used to be made by individual officers were now pushed to the Sergeants. A sergeant’s decision making was pushed up the chain. Furthermore, any action taken was liable to be captured for the viewing pleasure of bureaucrats, too fat, too old or too scared to go out and do the job themselves.
The writer gets in the ballpark, but misses the point. Technology and policy are useful but cannot address all things, all of the time. Police officers need room to move rather than being a slave to policy, or a body cam. Police work is like sausage making, it isn’t always pretty, but it’s the end result that counts. This isn’t an advocacy of anything goes. In order to get good sausage one needs to follow a recipe and observe certain rules of hygiene. So it is with police work.
Police are not supposed to make sure they get home at any cost, they’re supposed to make sure that we do.
An 87-year-old woman was tased by a Georgia police officer earlier this month. Her story speaks to the need for cops to be brave and willfully self sacrificial in their work, not put their own safety and rights above that of the public.
Martha al-Bashara, a Syrian-born grandmother who speaks little English, was gathering dandelions for cooking in Chatsworth, Georgia. She had a plastic bag and what was described in the police report as a steak knife and by her family as a kitchen knife. Al-Bashara crossed into an empty lot near her home and began selecting the dandelions…
When three cops arrived, a confused confrontation ensued. Al-Bashara, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen familiar to her neighbors, refused to drop the knife, and reportedly continued to approach Police Chief Josh Etheridge and two of his officers as they told her to stop and tried to get her to drop her knife. One of the officers eventually responded by firing his Taser at the woman’s chest…
He also claimed that if al-Bashara had forced the officer to back away, he might have tripped. “She could have been hurt just as easily, or even fell on the knife itself,” he said, or “held the knife in an aggressive manner, and then deadly force would have been used…”
Yet cops appear to believe their lives are more important than ours. Police want respect and esteem — and obedience — but they, their fraternal organizations, their unions, their chiefs, their friends and family, and everyone waving a Blue Lives Matter flag, lean on cliches such as “split-second decision” to defend unwarranted force, and stress that officer safety is paramount…
It shouldn’t be. If police have extended legal rights (which they do), and are alway armed (which they are in the United States), then they need to be braver than the rest of us, and they need to prioritize the safety of everyone else before themselves. If they are unable or unwilling to do that, they should find a different career…
We have more than 300 million guns in America. That means police have to worry about being shot more than they do in places like the UK. But it also means that gun-owners could do what police do. And they could do it just as badly and as selfishly as the worst cops. Or, we could consider hiring and training a class of people who are ready to risk their safety for the safety of the potentially dangerous, the mentally ill, or the old ladies picking dandelions…
If police can’t handle that, there are options. We might consider letting them earn the right to carry a gun, or to keep them locked in their cars. But more important than the weapons they use or don’t use is the mindset that they are at war with us, and that their lives matter more. Police are not supposed to make sure they get home at any cost, they’re supposed to make sure that we do…
My generation of cops were risk takers, that was part of the attraction to the job. I’m not talking about, “Hold my beer and watch this risk,” (not generally) but a calculated risk. I taught officer survival for a number of years. A question I put to the students who had used deadly force was: “Tell me about the times you could have shot a suspect and didn’t. Compare that to the time that you did. What changed?
I could see the light go on. Most of these officers could recount multiple occasions where they would have been justified in shooting but didn’t. My total was ten. The answer was almost always the same. Officers involved in a deadly force incident felt like there was no other option available to them. In those incidents where they didn’t shoot they felt like they had the upper hand and could afford to try one more thing, or utter one more command.
In an effort to control every eventuality, police administrations tried to formulate policy and provide technology to cover any eventuality, a fool’s errand if there ever was one. The result is Tasing an 87 year-old-woman or shooting a wacko because the Taser didn’t work.
Give me the old days. I watched an officer who was squared off with a much larger individual with a proven history of fighting the police. It appeared that it was going to be another brawl. The brawler was unimpressed as the officer pulled his nightstick. He was nonplussed when the officer threw the nightstick to him. Once the suspect caught it, the officer drew his revolver. The officer pointed out that the fighter was armed with a deadly weapon and could therefore be shot. The suspect’s face fell, he threw the nightstick down and cried, “You cheated.” He also turned around and put his hands behind his back. The arrest continued without incident.
I once diffused a fight between two equally matched groups of potential combatants. Each had about ten supporters in the cheering section. I placed myself between the two factions. (It was halftime on Superbowl Sunday). I blew my whistle and threw my handkerchief and accessed a five yard penalty to one faction for being off-sides. They moved back. As I tried to assess the situation, the other faction kept interrupting. Out came the handkerchief and whistle, fifteen yards unsportsmanlike conduct. They stepped it off. By this time both cheering sections were laughing and cheering me. All that remained was for me to point out, the game was fixing to start again and we didn’t have a TV at the jail. Tear gas couldn’t have cleared the place out faster.
Would a police officer of today, equipped with a body cam, dare to intervene in a spousal disturbance and achieve peace (at least for the night) by performing a divorce? I have done it at least twice. Each drunk was instructed to place their hands on my badge while I intoned, “by the powers vested in me, you are now divorced.” The fight was over and one went happily on his way while she stayed behind.
Lucy got it wrong. Going home at the end of the shift is a worthwhile priority. Going to work is not a suicide mission. I would agree with her that some officers lack imagination, in that they try to solve problems “by the book” when the book doesn’t apply. Mark Twain said it best:
“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”Mark Twain
Lucy Steigerwald is a journalist and an editor at Young Voices. Her work has appeared in the American Conservative, the Daily Beast, Playboy, and Reason. Follow her on Twitter @lucystag.