The evidence in this case shows the shooting to be accidental, and possibly negligent, but not criminally so. "This shooting is not justified, but also not criminal."I don't know if I buy the stutter-step no-double-tap explanation. But at least the legal concept is sound. Something can be wrong and not criminal.
In fact, the only charges are against the paralyzed victim with the dead wife. [Update: Charges were dropped. He died.] This seems kind of mean. And there are no national politicians weighing in. Just a small local protest. Al Sharpton must be previously engaged. (As is often the case, this unnecessary shooting happened in California.)
Officer Feaster claims he didn't know he shot Thomas:
No, no. ... I don’t think I shot him. I wasn’t even pointing at him but the gun did go off."Did go off"? What are you saying? It just blew?
Let's leave aside whether Feaster is the world's best shot or the world's worst cop. Perhaps it doesn't matter. The question I have, the question any reasonable police officer might have, is why the hell did he draw his gun in the place. What made this cop so afraid that he felt the need to approach a crashed presumed drunk driver with his gun drawn and shot the man trying to get out of the wreck? The guy was going to run? What use is your gun in that case? A car just flipped. What exactly was the threat?
In the same vein, a reasonable police officer wonders, as did Levar Jones complying with orders, why he got shot. Why did cops feel that innocent Jonathan Ayers was a lethal threat while driving away? Why is a man not carrying a gun a lethal threat when he drops his hand?
Why did all these police officers see non-existent threats? Why were they so damn afraid? (I'm tempted to add "...these days," but maybe it's always been this way. I don't know.)
In the face of danger you need to act but not overreact. You need courage, not fear. There's a line I always liked in Birds Without Wings:
His courage was not the foolish kind of a young and silly man. It was the courage of a man who looks danger in the face, and forces himself not to flinch.Hell, a little fear can be a good thing; you don't want to be blasé in the face of danger. It starts in the police academy. "Stay alert, stay alive!" It's a good lesson. Even "make a hole" isn't so bad when it's put in the context of situational awareness. But too much fear becomes paranoia. And that's not conducive to good policing (or a happy life).
Here are some of the videos cops watch in the police academy. Some I saw myself. Others are more recent. They're all on YouTube (which didn't even exist when I was a cop). I guarantee you that every last one one of these has been watched in some police academy somewhere. Every cop I know knows 1) Dinkheller.
And 2) here's that woman cop getting her ass kicked trying to arrest some big guy. His daughter is there. The cop kind of came back, but never recovered.
Go on. Watch them. Watch them all. It won't take but 10 or 15 minutes. I've cued them all up to the key moment. It's a parade of snuff films (though many of the cops do live, somehow). Can you watch all of these and not perceive threats and car stops a bit differently?
3) Here's a man who wouldn't stay in his car.
4) Here's a routine traffic stop.
5) Here's another routine traffic stop.
6) And other routine car stop.
7) This was a routine car stop but the guy drove away.
8) Here's a guy in cuffs and a girl. What could possible go wrong?
9) Three cops. One suspect. Everything under control?
10) This guy isn't wearing a shirt and doesn't seem hostile.
11) This guy is naked and unarmed. There are three cops, two of them with tasers. The guy is still a threat.
12) And sometimes this happens. Things can go from 0 to 100 really quickly.
13) This guy does a little jig. He must be just be an odd character.
14) And everything seems OK here. Except for that shot cop.
15) This is what happens when you don't put suspects on the ground.
16) We all know that when it comes to an armed man, it's easier to act than react.
17) And people who have done time can be especially dangerous.
18) Out-of-shape fathers with their 16-year-old sons? Could always be cop killers.
And to cops these aren't just abstract videos. There are people I know, friends, some taught in the academy, who were shot and lucky to live. Others, the pictures on the walls, weren't so lucky.
Certainly cops need some of this. Some people are willing, even eager, to kill police. You can't go on the job as a pacifist. But at some point fear isn't healthy. It isn't good for the job. It can even make the job less safe.
And I worked in a dangerous post. It made me less afraid. You face danger a few times, and you learn to respect it. Cops in the Eastern don't squeal every time somebody steps on a leaf. But you don't shoot at everything that moves.
But what if your work in some place without much danger? How do you stay awake, much less alert? (In my squad we could be alert and asleep!) And then, during some "routine" traffic stop or domestic -- blam -- something goes off script. Maybe you, the young cop who took the warrior mindset to heart, get a flashback to one of those videos in the academy where the cop got ambushed. And you think: "This is exactly how that cop got killed."
[Cue trippy flashback music and echo]
"This officer hesitated [tated] and it cost him his life [life, ife, f...]"So you misidentify a threat, overact, and pull the trigger. You've screwed up because you've gone through life in a constant state of "Condition Yellow" because you didn't want to slip into unaware "Condition White" in which:
"Better to be judged by 12 [elve] than carried by six [six, ix, x...]."
You may very well die — unless you are lucky. I prefer to not depend on luck.Maybe. For some. For me even. (This is why cops don't sit with their back toward the door.) But even if constant hypervigilance doesn't make you paranoid, it is very tiring. Exhausting, even. I don't miss it. And stress affects some people more than others. NYPD officers are much more likely to commit suicide with their service weapon than be killed by a criminal. Why?
Some insist you cannot go through life using this system without becoming a hair-trigger paranoid person who is dangerous to ones self and others. I believe well-adjusted police officers can run through the color code dozens of times every day and be no worse for wear. Most experienced police officers who learn the color code realize they have been taking these steps on their own all along.
I don't know the answer. I don't like the "warrior" or "guardian" dichotomy. I would certainly put the emphasis on the latter, but you need a bit of both. You can't let the warrior mindset take your soul.
Seth Stoughton writes in the Harvard Law Review:
Officers learn to be afraid. That isn’t the word used in law enforcement circles, of course. Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But make no mistake, officers don’t learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant just because it’s fun. They do so because they are afraid. Fear is ubiquitous in law enforcement.And to those who say police need to abandon this warrior mindset for guardian mindset. Well, they've got an answer for that, too. And it's not crazy. What do you do when it's time to fight?
At some basic level policing does involve confronting and fighting criminals intent on hurting you or others. I always notice that when people talk about police reform or improving community relations, the word "criminal" will never come up. It's as if the entire job of policing is nothing more than dancing with kids and smiling at church-going ladies in fancy hats.
See, just as the public needs to have a more realistic perspective about the "epidemic" of police killing innocent people (happens, but not too much), police need to get a realistic grip about being shot on the job (happens, including to friends of mine, but still less than cops think). Nationwide police get shot and killed about 3 times every month. That's an annual homicide rate (cops getting killed per 100,000 officers) of under 5, which just happens to be almost identical to the national homicide rate. Of course keep in mind cops are on-duty only a fraction of the time, so cops on the job have a homicide rate 5 times higher than the national average. But hell, it's still safer to be a cop than to live in Baltimore.
Stay alert. Stay alive. But for God's sake stop being so damn afraid all the time.
[In memory of the police officers killed in the above videos: Kyle Wayne Dinkheller, Jonathan Richard Schmidt, Edward Scott Richardson, Billy Colón-Crespo, Ramón Manuel Ramirez-Castro, Darrell Edward Lunsford, Sr., Thomas William Evans, and Robert Brandon Paudert. They gave their all.]