Vi­o­lence must end

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

Five Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cers were killed last week by a lone sniper who told po­lice dur­ing a sub­se­quent stand­off that he wanted to kill white po­lice of­fi­cers.

Micah John­son was an Army vet­eran and re­servist with a spe­cialty in carpentry and ma­sonry. He served one tour in Afghanistan, had trained in tac­ti­cal shoot­ing at a self-de­fense school and fol­lowed black mil­i­tant groups on so­cial me­dia.

The five of­fi­cers who were killed, along with seven of­fi­cers and two civil­ians who were wounded, were at­tend­ing a peace­ful protest over fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice in Louisiana and Min­nesota days ear­lier.

Al­ton Ster­ling was fa­tally shot early July 5 in Ba­ton Rouge af­ter po­lice re­sponded to a 911 caller who said a black man sell­ing CDs and DVDs in front of a lo­cal con­ve­nience store had threat­ened him with a gun.

Phi­lando Castile was fa­tally shot July 6 dur­ing a traf­fic stop in a sub­urb of St. Paul, Minn.

Both men were car­ry­ing firearms; Ster­ling il­le­gally, while Castile had a con­cealed carry per­mit, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

Al­though we have seen the dis­turb­ing by­stander videos of the Ba­ton Rouge and Min­nesota shoot­ings, we don’t know the full de­tails. We haven’t seen the videos from po­lice body cam­eras, from dash­board cam­eras, from sur veil­lance videos. And those by­stander videos don’t show the full in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the po­lice of­fi­cers and the black men who were fa­tally shot by them.

It is dis­turb­ing and prob­lem­atic when­ever any of our fel­low cit­i­zens is fa­tally shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer. Many such shoot­ings are un­jus­ti­fied while others may not be.

What we do know is that such shoot­ings should al­ways be fully in­ves­ti­gated by an im­par­tial out­side agency. And the in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be trans­par­ent: Re­lease any body cam, dash cam and sur­veil­lance videos and the 911 tapes as soon as pos­si­ble; au­topsy re­sults, foren­sic find­ings and wit­ness state­ments when those be­come avail­able.

We also have learned not to rush to judg­ment without such ev­i­dence. In the Michael Brown case in Fer­gu­son, Mo., one wit­ness claimed Brown had his hands up to sur­ren­der. “Hands up, don’t shoot” be­came a ral­ly­ing cry. But wit­ness tes­ti­mony and phys­i­cal ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing bal­lis­tics, showed Brown’s hands were not up.

In Dal­las, how­ever, the facts are clear. John­son’s am­bush of po­lice of­fi­cers was a heinous, de­spi­ca­ble act.

Po­lice of­fi­cers have an of­ten dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous job. Many po­lice of­fi­cers are heroic in ways large — pulling an in­jured driver from a burn­ing wreck­age about to ex­plode and tack­ling a sui­ci­dal per­son mak­ing a run for a bridge’s para­pet — and small — shoot­ing bas­ket­ball with neigh­bor­hood kids (and later get­ting Shaq to stop by to play) and de­fus­ing a con­flict with an im­promptu dance-off (and per­form­ing some pretty nice moves while do­ing so).

We’ve seen videos of th­ese hero­ics and heard sto­ries of count­less others, in­clud­ing life­sav­ing ac­tions of our lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers over the years.

And we firmly be­lieve that most po­lice of­fi­cers are good, hon­est, hard­work­ing pub­lic ser­vants who per­form a dif­fi­cult job as best as they can.

But we also be­lieve this: Black Amer­i­cans are some­times treated dif­fer­ently by po­lice of­fi­cers than white Amer­i­cans are. A small per­cent­age of po­lice of­fi­cers are un­nec­es­sar­ily bel­liger­ent and vi­o­lent and shouldn’t be wear­ing a badge. The his­tor­i­cal treatment of black Amer­i­cans — in­clud­ing slav­ery, racism and seg­re­ga­tion — still in­flu­ences our cul­ture.

Yes. You can con­demn the mur­der of po­lice of­fi­cers, but also ques­tion the way a small hand­ful of po­lice of­fi­cers per­form their du­ties, as well as in­sti­tu­tional and cul­tural con­cerns about po­lice-pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion. The two are not con­tra­dic­tory. So, where to go from here? Some an­swers seem sim­ple and rea­son­able. All po­lice of­fi­cers should wear body cam­eras at all times. All po­lice ve­hi­cles also should have cam­eras, both dash cam­eras and cam­eras aimed at any pris­oner area. Any po­lice ve­hi­cles used for trans­port­ing pris­on­ers should have “black boxes” al­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors to de­ter­mine how the ve­hi­cle was be­ing driven.

Po­lice of­fi­cers should be bet­ter trained on de-es­ca­la­tion tac­tics, there should be greater use and train­ing of non-lethal force and of­fi­cers should know that their ev­ery ac­tion might be video­taped (and that ev­ery cit­i­zen has the right to record them).

What’s more dif­fi­cult is of­fi­cer in­ter­ac­tion with armed cit­i­zens. Many Amer­i­cans have con­cealed carry permits. What are the best prac­tices for those cit­i­zens when stopped by po­lice and for po­lice on pa­trol know­ing they may en­counter a law-abid­ing, but armed, cit­i­zen?

Even more dif­fi­cult is com­ing up with a way to re­duce, and hope­fully end, vi­o­lence in our so­ci­ety. Treat­ing others with re­spect, and as fel­low hu­mans, is a good way to start.

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