Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Response to Policing America

I just want to introduce one possible complication to what seems like an otherwise very thorough take on the Tamir Rice killing in Cleveland.

At first glance, and without looking too closely, this case seems to be an exception among those cases of white cops shooting black people, especially the two in Chicago -- shooting some guy across the street sixteen times, and shooting a woman and teen in a doorway from twenty feet away. Those two shootings seem absolutely indefensible, and to claim those cops felt their lives were threatened is total nonsense, an example of the sort of absurdity you'd expect to see in Franz Kafka's "The Trial".

I keep wondering if, when he was shooting away at Laquan McDonald, Officer Jason Van Dyke was taking into consideration that the odds were seemingly in his favor of getting away with this since, according to Huffington Post:

Van Dyke's indictment was the first time in more than 30 years that a Chicago police officer had been charged with murder. If convicted, he could serve 20 years to life in prison -- and would be the first Chicago cop in the modern era to be convicted of first-degree murder from an on-duty shooting. 

But it's a different case when a cop car pulls right up next to a suspect, and before the wheels even stop rolling, the cop comes out of the car and sees the suspect pulling out a gun. In this case, as awful as it is, I can understand him doing what he did.

A few years ago, the security department at my wife's employer (CNN) invited her to participate in one of those simulated training sessions in which you, the cop, standing there with a gun and watching a film of suspects popping out of various places, have to decide whether to shoot them or not. I can't remember the details, but I think she accidentally shot down several innocent civilians, but also decided to not shoot somebody who then, first, shot her, but then shot some innocent bystander that wouldn't have been shot, had she been doing a better job of being a cop. She found the whole experience illuminating. I'm thinking we should offer everyone in America the chance to go through one of those sessions.

But it occurs to me today that one thing that her simulated shootout didn't take into account was this business of “officer-created jeopardy” -- that is, what did my wife do to get herself in that situation in the first place where she was forced to think about shooting someone?

The answer, of course, is nothing. She just showed up at the pretend crime scene with her pretend gun drawn because the cameraperson showed up at that specific location and filmed it. Jane had no choice in the matter.

And what of Officer Timothy Loehmann, the officer who shot Tamir Rice? Shouldn't he have approached his suspect from farther away?

I would say yes, but the truth is, he apparently didn't have a choice either, since it was not he who was driving the patrol car, it was his partner, Officer Frank Garmback. In this case, Loehmann can't be held accountable for placing himself in the wrong location, and I'm not even sure whether Garmback can either, since he didn't do the shooting -- although I would think he should be somehow, since had he not driven up so close, we might not all be talking about this shooting incident today.

I understand that all this is playing out within the context of the national issue of too many white cops shooting too many black youths, with members of "Black Lives Matter" taking to the streets to protest each suspected case, but I would also hope that even the protesters could recognize that some cases don't fit that profile, and that the Tamir Rice case, in particular, seems to be far different than those Chicago cases, in that, rather than blatant police misconduct, it was just a tragedy that we really need to find out how to avoid in the future.

Examples of some things we could look into that, had they been in place, could have saved Tamir Rice's life:

* Should cops be required to keep their distance from suspects, and not drive right up to them? Should they be charged if they fail to do this?

* Should 911 operators be obligated to pass on bits of information to dispatchers that they hear from the callers, such as that this seemed to be a boy who was playing with a toy gun -- and the dispatchers be required to pass these on to the patrol officers responding to the call? Should there be legal consequences if they don't?

And only slightly off the subject but still sort of relevant: Should not the people who originally set up the "Black Lives Matter" movement instead have called it "Black Lives Matter, Too"?

I think that would have made the point more clearly, without so much chance of misunderstanding, and done it by staking a claim on the middle ground, which would have partly pulled the rug out from under all those Fox News-types or whomever it is that are now depicting the movement, with a certain amount of success, as some sort of anti-white hate group.

In fact, it may not be too late. If someone with influence in "Black Lives Matter" is reading this, it's not too late for you to convince everyone to change the name of the movement to "Black Lives Matter, Too!"

It'd be quite the public relations coup, assuming you care about that sort of thing.

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