Saturday, December 5, 2020 -
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Excessive force

A man was shot dead in downtown Denver by a security officer hired by 9NEWS. As to whether the officer, who has been charged with second degree murder, acted in self-defense, we shall have to wait until his trial.

Either way, the death was tragic and, in my view, avoidable.

We need not wait until the trial to learn important lessons.

First:

Suppose the man shot dead were black. Pow! We would have had continuing demonstrations against what would be called systemic racism, and perhaps the protests would have turned violent. Authorities in Denver remain prepared for violence, as the State Capitol, the City and County Building and the nearby federal courthouse are boarded up to this day.

If the victim were black, we would also have heard widespread claims that if the victim were white, he would not have been killed.

But he was white, and he was killed.

Racism, systemic or otherwise, was not at play.

The narrative of systemic racism, like all such narratives, was upended. “Narratives” are often a procrustean bed into which facts that don’t fit are forced to fit.

To me this shows that more than systemic racism we have a societal problem of excessive force. We cannot prejudge whether the force used by this security guard was excessive, but even if he is found innocent, we may ask:

Why was this security guard brought to this demonstration by a news organization at all?

9NEWS claims that it did not know that its own security officer was armed, and did not intend for him to be armed. So what was the point of having a security guard there at all?

We have in this incident excessive force in three senses: the expectation of violence generally; the assumption by a security guard (or his company) that he must be armed; and the expectation that any attack on security personnel will be lethal, requiring a lethal response.

Focus on the last point in particular. Am I the only one who has wondered why, when police are threatened to the point that they must respond with their guns, they often shoot to kill? Why must an armed attacker be killed to be stopped? Would not a bullet to the hand or the arm do the same? If an attacker is running away, would not a bullet to the legs or arms (or both) do the same? Excessive force — and the expectation thereof — has become an ever increasing reality in America.

Second:

A problem with “peaceful protests” has developed.

The right of assembly is guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is a right not respected by non-peaceful protesters. They are dangerous to more than the protests they disrupt and render violent. The prevelance of violence in response to the killing of blacks by police and to other events has the effect of attracting non-peaceful people to peacefully intended protests.

It is a vicious cycle.

If police do not come to monitor peacefully intended protests and violence develops, innocent people suffer. The idea of peaceful protest suffers.

If police do come to monitor peacefully intended protests, their presence gives non-peacefully intended protesters the opportunity to provoke them. This is essentially what happened in downtown Denver, when an armed security officer offered the opportunity for what turned out to be the victim’s provocation against him that prompted a lethal response by him.

What is the solution to the vicious cycle? Not to ban free assembly.

Nor to ban police from monitoring the type of peaceful protest that, in the post-George Floyd era, carries the potential to turn violent. Defunding the police or disbanding police units is certainly not a solution.

The only long-term solution is twofold:

• to ratchet up the prosecution of all violent protesters, to acknowledge the dimensions of the violence and to condemn it. The message here is meant for the liberal, Democratic side.

• to ratchet down the romance over guns and the resistance to reasonable gun control laws. The message here is meant for the conservative, Republican side.

The only way to become a society without excessive force is to become a different society that hardly requires force at all.

The 1960s surely had their own problems with police, which I am not addressing here, but I do remember that at a massive show of police force at anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, unarmed student protesters placed flowers in the rifles of police or soldiers to discourage violence, and to show that they harbored nothing personal in their protest.

The ideal was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent protest.

Non-violence: we need to resummon that ideal.

A final word on “narratives.” The terrible killing of a white demonstrator by a white security officer in downtown Denver reminded me of the fallacy of another “narrative.”

Last Aug. 4, a terrible explosion was set off in downtown Beirut. Many died. Explosives had been deposited in Beirut for years and stayed there unattended to. The Lebanese government did nothing to dismantle them.

We know all this only after the fact.

Before the fact, suppose that an attack on Israel by Hezbollah prompted an Israeli response on Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut. This is not a farfetched scenario. It has happened before.

Suppose an Israeli retaliation included a direct hit on that particular storage depot, blown it up and killed many innocent people all over the area. The “narrative” of Israeli cruelty and undisciplined military madness would have been impossible to counter, though it would not have been factual. It would not have been accurate. Israel was not responsible for depositing that powder keg or for even knowing about it.

But if Israel had exploded it, the facts would have been exploded along with it.

The lesson here is: Be careful of “narratives.” Originating in facts but these days usually growing into hard, purblind biases, not based on facts, “narratives” get in the way of understanding and solving problems.

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News



IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com


One thought on “Excessive force

  1. Yaakov Watkins

    The reasons not to shoot to wound rather than kill include the fact they might kill anyway and they have to be prepared the consequence of them killing wounding, it is also much more difficult to aim that closely in tense situation where the suspect is crouching doesn’t provide a large target, also the case that wounding a suspect might result in the suspect shooting back and harming someone. A 38 caliber shell will if it misses the suspect probably go through the wall of nonbrick house, through an interior wall or two, and through somebody else. On the other hand it probably won’t deflate a tire but will just bounce off.

    I am far from being an expert but the information I do have does cover some of the basics. My suggestion is that before a newspaper publishes and editorial or any opinion piece regarding gun violence by police it would be appropriate to ask the police about their policies and the reasons for them.

    Reply

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