I was in fear for my life. A man kept putting his hands in the front pocket of his pullover sweatshirt as he spoke to me. I shot at him to protect myself. Turns out that he regularly puts his hands in that pocket as he talks to people. It was also cold outside and he was trying to keep his hands warm.
I was in fear for my life. A man exited his car holding a black object. I was afraid that it might be a gun. It was dark outside and I could not see well. I shot at him to protect myself. Turns out that the object was the man’s cell phone.
I was in fear for my life. A young African American boy was walking down the street with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head. I could not see his hands. I called out to him a few times to get his attention, but he would not stop strolling down the street. Not only was he ignoring me, but he was also wearing red, a gang color. Clearly, he was up to no good. I shot at him to protect myself. Turns out that he was talking on the phone to his little brother. He was on his way home.
I was in fear for my life. I was in the area where a violent crime had just occurred. The suspect was an African American man wearing a plain white t-shirt. I saw an African American man running towards me wearing a white t-shirt. I shot at him to protect myself. Turns out that the man was running late to pick up his daughter from school.
I was in fear for my life. A woman was yelling and screaming at me. She was cursing at me and calling me derogatory names. She was obviously mentally ill. I shot at her to protect myself. Turns out, she was in handcuffs.
If I was on trial for murder or attempted murder in any state in the nation, I would be hard-pressed to find a jury that would acquit me in any of the above scenarios. Jurors would not believe that I reasonably feared for my life. Jurors would not believe that I immediately needed to use any force, much less deadly force, to defend against a danger.
Jurors would not be sympathetic to my cries for mercy. Jurors would not believe that my only option was to take a man’s life. Jurors would not believe that the killing was justified. Jurors would not believe that I did not intend to kill those individuals. Authorities would ship me off in shackles to prison to serve out my life sentence. Humankind would label me as a murderer. Society would shun me. People across the country would proclaim that I got what I deserved.
Now, replace my civilian clothes with a police uniform. Replace the gun I hypothetically elected to possess with a duty belt that included a firearm issued by the police department. As a peace officer shooting at another human being in the above circumstances, I will most likely never come face-to-face with a jury. I will not have to go through the trauma of a trial. My department will find my actions justified, and the decision of my superiors will be rubber stamped by the District Attorney’s Office.
If for some unexpected reason I am in the slim minority of officers forced to face a jury of my peers, a jury will acquit me of any charges in all the above-referenced scenarios. Society loves law enforcement. Blue lives matter. I will be a hero, not a murderer.
This disparaging contradiction is revolting. Wearing a badge provides nearly free reign to murder. According to a study done by the California Department of Justice, in 2015 there were 163 justifiable homicides in California. Out of those justifiable homicides, peace officers committed 130 while civilians committed only 33. (Homicide in California, 2015.) In Kern County, California, between 2007 and July 11, 2016, there were 133 officer-involved shootings. Of those shootings, 132 were “justified.” Sixty-nine of the officer-involved shootings resulted in a death. (KGET article.)
When a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting, he or she knows the key words to say during investigatory interviews and in court to make sure that there is a justifiable homicide finding. Yet, those same officers will quickly point fingers at any civilian who proffers the same rationale. Those same peace officers will assert that the civilian shooter in the same situation is lying and saying exactly what he needs to say to avoid consequences. Those same officers want to see a “killer” booked into jail and prosecuted as harshly as possible. However, when the roles are reversed, those officers see themselves as above the law.
In rationalizing the hypocrisy, peace officers typically discuss the dangers of being on patrol. Frequently, an officer will state that he or she had one instant to make the decision and when it comes down to losing his or her life or taking someone else’s life, that officer elects to go home to his or her family. Society accepts such explanations at face value because law enforcement officers are society’s heroes.
Such rationales make peace officers appear less blameworthy on the surface. Such pretexts garner sympathy and support for the men and women in blue. In the very few situations where an officer truly immediately feared for his or her life, it is understandable and acceptable to open fire. However, officers should not be given a free pass to kill merely because they offer a similar excuse. Too many officers shoot when the circumstances do not justify the use of force. If officers truly only act by shooting in dire circumstances, there would not be so many officer-involved shootings.
How do we know that law enforcement is abusing its power? Just look at the statistics. Just look at the circumstances surrounding officer-involved shootings. All those above-referenced situations are conditions under which officers have justified killing or trying to kill another human being in the past. All of those above-situations were deemed justifiable homicides by police agencies and district attorneys offices.
When it comes to shooting a firearm at another mortal, it is time that law enforcement and civilians be held to the same standards. Maybe then, police officers will be more careful when they open fire knowing that they risk criminal consequences and a life in prison.
As it now, there are virtually no consequences for officers who shoot at other individuals. The lack of consequences perpetuates a slippery slope. As more and more peace officers get away with murder, the next generation of law enforcement officers learns that it is acceptable and laudable to be trigger-happy.