Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cops And Context: A Plea For Common Sense

Before I start. two opening points.

First, being a cop on patrol and responding to calls is a highly dangerous, immensely stressful job. A person in a call center can take the next call without worrying about getting killed. A cop has that thought, they might be killed, just about every single time they do their job. I would not do their job even if I was able to do so within the boundaries of my faith. I think that for the vast majority of cops the last thing they want to do while on duty is pull their gun and want even less to have to use it.

Second, there are obviously people who are bad people on police forces around the country, just as their are bad doctors and bad garbage men. Racism exists among some cops. An attraction to having power over others and a license to commit violence also exists. Police are the primary enforcement mechanism of the coercive state. As such I am naturally a little suspicious of the police.

As of this morning, the violence in Charlotte is undiminished. More cops hurt by rioters. More stores looted, property damaged. A man is in critical condition right now after being shot, allegedly by someone other than the police. The national guard is being mobilized.

It is a scene we have observed again and again. For people like me who live way out in the country, it is fairly remote and distant but it certainly reinforces the idea of cities as dangerous places you don't want to go. For people who live in urban areas it is a growing reality, a new "normal" of discontent and violence.

I am not looking to comment in general about the logic of protesting violence with more violence, including damaging your own neighborhoods. I am just asking for some common sense.

The response in Charlotte at first blush seems to me, not to put too fine a point on it, insane. People are rioting and causing damage and injury because a cop shot a man holding a gun who refused a lawful order to drop it. I believe in an absolute, unalienable right of free citizens of the United States to keep and bear arms. I also recognize that the police, while in the act of carrying out their duties, have a perfectly reasonable expectation that a person with a gun who is asked to drop said gun or otherwise remove the immediate threat it poses because of a volatile situation. Too many cops get shot in this country to expect cops to wait until someone actually starts shooting at them before returning fire. If I were legally hunting and came across a game warden, I would set my gun down or at least break open the action so it wasn't an immediate threat. That is just common sense and common courtesy. People with any background in handling guns safely and properly understand why a gun in your hands can be seen as a threat.

My point here today is simple. Those who are in leadership positions within the black community have a responsibility to show some common sense for the sake and protection of their own people and it is absolutely necessary if they are going to make a difference. Here is what I mean. If you respond to what seems to be a completely justifiable shooting like the one in Charlotte and previously of Michael Brown in Ferguson in the same way you do what looks like a sketchy shooting in Tulsa, you completely lose your credibility. I believe the average citizen of this country, white or black or whatever, understands why the cop in Charlotte shot Keith Lamont Scott. So when you have religious leaders who describe it in terms like "modern day lynching" and threatening more violence if "justice" is not served and you have people attacking cops and looting Wal-Mart in response, it looks like people are just taking advantage of a situation to carry out depraved behavior.

When you respond to every shooting, justified or not, with the same message, it looks to the rest of the country like you are anti-cop and anti-law and are simply looking for an excuse to cause mayhem. It is sort of a "boy who cried wolf" situation. If you say "this is unjust!" when someone is shot without provocation but you also say "this is unjust!" when someone is shot for a valid reason, it all starts to sound the same and your message is diluted. If your concern is a perceived propensity for cops to use lethal force against black men that is unwarranted by the situation, then stop sticking your face in front of any microphone you can find when someone is justifiably shot. If you don't, people will stop listening to you and nothing will ever change. If you think that cops should never shoot anyone then you are dumb and should just shut up in general.

By all means, speak out when there is injustice being done but first take some time to think through what qualifies as unjust and what doesn't. A man in the dark with a gun in his hand who refuses clear, verbal instructions from cops to drop it is an immediate, lethal threat that cops have to respond to. The shooting of an armed black man by a black police officer is sad and unfortunate but completely justified if the facts bear out the description from the police.

So please just take a moment. I know we are in an era of immediate feedback to every event but take some time to think about what is just and unjust before calling for justice. If the black community leaders in Charlotte said something like "This was an unfortunate loss of life but it appears to be justified. Let's let the investigation take it's course and in the meantime let's focus on situations where the shooting seems unjustified", it would quell many of the violent "protests" and place the focus on where it needs to be.

When you cry wolf and paint with the broadest of brushes regardless of the facts, you dilute your message and are rightly discounted by most Americans. That isn't helping anyone but the people who have a vested interest in stirring up racial division wherever possible.
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