For the last week I’ve been studying police shootings from both sides of the issue. I’ve read court records, viewed dozens of autopsy photos, and watched hours of video, both public, and private. I’ve talked informally with police officers, and “thugs,” and watched at least twenty chiefs of police use the word, “justified,” when confronted by the press, and grieving friends and relatives. In my usual manner I have simplified all of this, and come to some conclusions, some of which may surprise you.
There are not one, but two “oldest” professions in the world. One, as you know, is prostitution. The other is the police officer. Since before recorded history there have always been men hired to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The shop keeper in Rome, who could not lift a sword handily, depended on the Centurion who stood at the ready, so that any woman could safely walk the streets at night. Saint Paul was executed in Rome, as was Peter, but if you will note, they both got there safely. No matter how political, or perverse the Emperor was, the Centurion on the street was very simple and direct. Maintain order, serve, and protect the citizens of Rome. All societies have these men. All societies have a portion of the populace that will break the rules and by brute force, take what is not theirs. While the politicians redefine words, and yes, even lie, it is the police officer who looks the perpetrator in the eye, and in a split second, must make the choice between life and death . . . often, his OWN life and death. They understand this, they accept it.
One of the videos I watched was a security film of an encounter at an apartment complex. There was no sound, but an officer was questioning someone. There was no altercation, the officer speaking, and the other man nodding, both seemingly at ease. Then, the officer points as if to tell the man to step away for a moment, and as he turns, and pulls a note pad from his pocket, the man that he was talking to pulls a gun, and shoots him in the back of the head. THIS is the grim reality of police work! This is why officers are so skittish when questioning even the most mundane of citizens.
It ain’t like in the movies. Remember that statement, there’ll be a quiz later. Clint Eastwood draws his Smith & Wesson, takes careful aim, and shoots a suspect at one hundred yards with a carefully placed bullet, while munching a hot dog. That never happens, and Miley Cyrus will not taking me to dinner tonight. In a face to face gunfight there are dozens of bullets flying and any one of them can put an officer in the same position as that one scribbling on his note pad that day.
Think about this; when you go to work today, about the most dangerous part of your day is your commute. If you are reasonably alert you pay attention to traffic, obey all the laws, and you will hopefully arrive safely at your office with your Starbucks in hand. In a police officer’s world the safest part of his day is the trip to work, and his ambition is to make a safe trip home to his family. Imagine, if you will, that every ONE of your customers may be your last. The police officer never enters a situation unless something is wrong. From speeding ticket to domestic disturbance, most of the people the officer will encounter do NOT want him to be there, and surprisingly, the domestic disturbance is the most dangerous. The officer must enter another’s territory, unaware of the background, or weapons, or drugs and alcohol involved. He may see a battered woman, but be totally unaware that the reason she is battered is because her husband just came home and caught her and her boyfriend. The husband’s entire life plan just evaporated ten minutes before the officer arrived, and frankly, he’s ready to die. Turn the tables, and the woman is not battered, indeed, she called the police, meeting them at the door with accusations of her man being drunk, and loud, and in the dim light the officer doesn’t even see the two black eyes the man is sporting from an abusive, combative wife. He has no idea of who else is in the house, there are loud words, the man of the house picks up his dinner plate with a steak knife still on it, and the officer fires! Of course, the grieving wife gets a lot of attention on the nightly news as she tells what a wonderful father and husband her deceased husband (was.)
Knife seems to play a large role in police shootings. Remember, it ain’t like in the movies. To the novice, it would seem that an officer, armed with a gun, would be invincible to something as simple as a steak knife. I’m going to enlighten you. It’s almost better to be shot. I was a Realtor for a number of years. I’ve measured many homes, and rarely have I seen a living room wider than fifteen feet, most are about twelve. Even our spacious home in Berry Creek was only twenty feet across the main sitting area, the other rooms were smaller. Do the math. The suspect, and officer are more than likely not standing against opposing walls, making the distance much closer. Two steps in and a slash. Now I know you won’t do this, but imagine it, if you will, hanging a pork roast from a door frame, take a common, rather small butcher knife, and make a quick swing at it. The cut will extend from six to eight inches, maybe more, about two to three inches deep. Transpose that to your own torso, and your will quickly see why officers shout rather loudly, “DROP THE KNIFE!” A knife can be much deadlier than a bullet. Again, it ain’t like in the movies.
People believe that when a bullet hits, the person shot will go down, drop the weapon and turn totally submissive. Not so. First off, they’re upset, maybe crazy, drunk, or suicidal. They may not even know they’ve been shot, or if they do, imagine it’s all over, their chips are all on the table, and it’s time to go out in a blaze of glory. The acceptance of your own death is surprisingly calm. When I was crushed between two cars in 1970, I thought I was going to die. Both legs broken, bones sticking out everywhere. From the way I was hit I thought my femur artery was severed, and I knew it took about thirty seconds to bleed out. I began to count backwards from thirty, and when I got to zero, was pleasantly surprised. At no time was I afraid. I figured my ticket was punched, and waited for darkness to fall.
There is a type of wound called, “through and through, concerning an area that rests on either side of your body from just below your ribs about an inch or so in toward your navel. Love handles. Back in the days of the “wild west” outlaws knew that if they were hit there that they could drag a silk handkerchief through the bullet wound and would live. Most likely the bullet would pass all the way through and leave a clean, sanitized hole. Don’t believe me? Check out David Koresh on his video where he’s sitting on the floor at Mount Carmel. See the spot on his shirt? See where he raises that shirt to show where the bullet exited? David was shot “through and through.” I might add that he had the presence of mind to close the door that morning and retreat back into the building.
THIS is the reason for the many shots. THIS is the reason for handcuffing a seemingly incapacitated man. THIS is the reason many officers have been wounded, or even killed by a suspect they thought was down for the count! It ain’t like in the movies! The police must play by the rules of engagement every time, and even one mistake, a half second lapse of diligence can spell disaster. The officer must read the test correctly and make straight “As” or he’s DEAD! Just like the one at that apartment that day.
Do officers make mistakes? Yes. When you combine the many factors in a police encounter the formula becomes astronomical. “Procedure was correctly followed.” You hear that over and over again, and it makes the general public mad. That’s all the police officer has, procedure! He doesn’t have time to reflect, consider, or rewrite the rules, he has one second, and his training in procedure to survive. What should you do if you become involved in a situation involving a police officer? Here’s where I will surprise you. FORGET about your rights, the constitution, and all those things you think you learned on YouTube. Your “procedure” is to convince that officer that you are no threat to either him, or anyone else. If civil rights have been violated there are lawyers for that . . . later! YOU make a safe trip down to the old “PD,” and call your lawyer, call your congressman, call your mother (she loves you,) but you do EXACTLY what that officer says, and you will most likely wake up in the morning.
Now, let’s look at McKinney from the officer’s point of view. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they were kids. Billy the Kid was about nineteen when he blasted sixteen dimes through Deputy Bob’s chest before stealing a horse and escaping jail, I don’t want to hear it! I’ve read all the stuff about there was only one fight between two people, but THAT’S not what the officers came up on. They came into a situation involving dozens of people running in dozens of different directions, NOT obeying lawful orders being given to them by officers of the law! Oh, but they were just kids. Remember that pork roast? A ten year old girl can do that with a pocket knife! “Sit DOWN,” has no other meaning. If a person is sitting down it only goes to follow that it will take him a moment to get up, and harm himself, or others. Did the officer in question get a bit out of control? Well, a bit, but consider this; he’d been chasing, and screaming at a crowd of unruly kids for minutes, and TOLD Miss Yellow Bikini to leave, not once, but THREE times, when she decided to become a Philadelphia lawyer, and yes, she got slammed, and yes, she got a knee on her back. Good MORNING, honey . . . smell that coffee yet? Sure would have been better if you’d just walked away like the officer TOLD you to do! I wish in my life, and many altercations with police they’d told me to “just leave.”
Examination of shootings involving officers are hard. You say, “Well, the man was shot in the back.” OK, but consider this; It’s one thing to shoot someone in the back who is loping across a field, but quite another to fire on a man who WAS running toward you, but decided to turn away at the last second AS the officer was squeezing the trigger. Any shooting must be investigated, but always remember, most police shootings ARE justified, and the only litmus test IS procedure. We have a dangerous mindset developing in this country where the police are automatically suspect in any altercation. It’s becoming a rite of passage to film an officer making an error during an encounter, and most of the time the video is only the so called error and NOT the situation leading up to the event. As a society we cannot forward this idea. We must consider all things and remember . . . It ain’t like in the movies!