I don’t want to tick off anyone, but perhaps I don’t understand the heroics of law enforcement today. The latest example is something I first thought was a joke, a joke that I was too slow to understand, and then it turns out to be no joke at all. It is extraordinary, really. Earlier this year an Arizona police officer used his squad car to run over a suspect!
Really? Yes, really…
What ever happened to “Stop!” or even “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” Quaint tactics, perhaps — probably never very realistic (or effective?) in the first place — and more applicable to nostalgic TV than real life.
For the most part people seem ok with this recent police event. Relatively speaking. There is some outrage scattered here and there, and quickly quelled. That’s about it. Perhaps this story is too outrageous for outrage? And people do note that the suspect is still alive…and even has the nerve to file a lawsuit. So it can’t be all that bad, right? Others point out that it might have been worse, the suspect could have been shot! (How passé.) Whatever the case, the implied message: This particular criminal is one of the lucky ones.
On the professional side of things, the consensus among law enforcement officials appears to be that force — even lethal force — was justified. A retired Los Angeles police officer judged the arresting officer’s “split second” decision reasonable. Let’s say it was reasonable (?), I am still not sure about the split second heroics here. It looks more like an adrenaline rage to me more than something reasonable. Even the police officer driving the weapon might want to rethink this one if given the chance.
Think about what is happening. You are pursuing someone who is carrying a loaded rifle on a city street, a real problem, I’ll admit. Presumably he is dangerous. So what do you do? You step on the gas and run him down with your car! This is a dangerous guy. Might there be something a little provocative about charging at him with a 3000 pound car? And suppose the suspect saw a car bearing down on him and feared for HIS safety and then shot at you?
That is an interesting question — and I don’t know all the details — but does the man with the gun have any right to defend himself? Do any of us have that right? In the recordings leading to the sidewalk collision, I don’t hear the police ordering the man to stop. (Although I have to believe they did try. Literally, I have to believe it.)
Nonetheless, how smart is the run-over tactic when your perpetrator is armed with a loaded rifle? I’d be more worried about the split second decision of the gun holder. And what about those cinder block walls you run over after you hit the pedestrian? Part of a shattered wall might come through the windshield and take out your teeth! Seems a bit reckless.
Or is the word cavalier? Who pays for the department’s body work and damaged property?
I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, but it does seem that there is something indifferent, even dismissive, about police tactics today. And nothing says dismissive better than a meme I saw today: “Instead of saying fuck the police, how about you stop breaking the fucking law?” Dismissive, indeed. Dangerous, too. Are there not matters of due process, rights, and accountability that should not be forgotten? Nonetheless, dismissing criticism is one way to deal with things. (Though maybe not the best way.)
The police remind the public that real-time situations are far different from contemplating choices in retrospect. But I am concerned about “split second” explanation being used to justify what often doesn’t seem like the best choice. Moreover, in cases when they argue deadly force is justified, is it always necessary?
This all rests on a sort of self-righteous bravado, especially among defenders of force, even crazy force such as automobiles being wielded as weapons. It suggests that if you don’t agree or understand, well, maybe you’re not cut of the right stuff. It suggests that proper, law-abiding people need not worry. Only criminals need to fear the police. And now their cars. It defines a division between the lawful and the lawless a priori of any crime or accusation. Ultimately, such thinking demands conformity and excludes debate.
Maybe ubiquitous media makes us more aware of what has been happening around us all the time and police shootings, chokings, and beatings is now where that media is focused. A fad, of sorts. This doesn’t mean we should look away. How we deal with what is happening says much about how we engage social conflict generally. By that measure there’s both hope and worry. However when police start driving cars onto sidewalks and plowing over suspects walking down a street, I think we’re bordering on worry. When people view this as routine, I know we’ve crossed that line.