It has happened yet again, a black man has lost his life at the hands of a police officer... And every time I hear the news about another one of these killings, I am incredibly saddened, confused, and at a loss of hope in American law enforcement officials. Furthermore, having recently moved to another country where I can look at the U.S. from a distance, it is painful to hear people's shocked reactions to these stories -- stories that have become all too familiar to me. This post is in response to every unjust homicide that has occurred, especially in the last few years, months, days, and specifically honors the lives of Tony Terrell Robinson Jr, Naeschylus Vinzant, and Anthony Hill. May they rest in peace.
On top of many other thoughts, I am always left with one very important question, the focus of this piece: Why was death the perceived necessary outcome? Why, if danger was "detected," did the "suspect" not just get injured and tried in court instead? In an attempt to find answers, I did a little research of my own. I found other people asking the same question with some explaining how the officer in different circumstances was justified for their actions.
Many have asked why officers do not try and aim for limbs to injure a person rather than aiming at organs, in turn, knowingly taking shots that most would not be able to survive. And one defense is based on the training officers receive when it comes to shooting. As explained in this HuffPost article,
Members of law enforcement are legally permitted to use deadly force when they have probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm either to the officer or to others. In such cases, most officers are trained to shoot at a target's center mass, where there is a higher concentration of vital areas and major blood vessels... shooting at a limb is impractical. Aiming at an arm or legs, which move fast, could result in a misfire that fails to neutralize the threat and may even hit the wrong person, The likelihood of success is low.
Okay. I suppose that these points seem fair, but they do not succeed in explaining many of the cases that result in the deaths of black people by police officers. Here's why: First, in the most outrageous cases, like Mike Brown's, Shelley Frey's, or Oscar Grant's, there is evidence that "threats of serious harm" were not present at all whatsoever. Second, there are other options to weaken a person without the use of a gun -- such as a taser or other force. Now of course, we've seen police officers flagrantly misuse these tactics as well (in the cases of Tanisha Anderson, Jamal Jones, Eric Garner, and many others). But, it still stands that these options are slightly less dangerous than shooting. Third, again in recent cases, the amount of shots taken is simply ridiculous. There is no way you could expect people to believe that killing was not the goal when 7-16 shots were fired. Besides, why is killing another human being considered a "success" to begin with?
Here are a few facts and thoughts for you to ponder: In New Zealand, the UK, and Norway police officers don't carry guns at all (BBC). December 2013 was the first time an officer had ever killed someone in Iceland (Huffington Post). Meanwhile in the U.S., just seeing someone of color is enough for an officer to suspect a "threat of serious physical harm," and it is enough for them to take things into their own hands and rob someone of their life, of their son, daughter, brother, mother, friend. I am not arguing that people of color never ever pose threats to officers, but I am asking why death is the most likely outcome even when they don't. Don't even try giving me a bullshit answer about it having to do with the technicalities of police training when it is clear that it is all to do with discrimination. To end, in August of 2014 the UN urged the U.S. to fight racism in our own country and stop police brutality saying that "when it comes to human rights, the U.S. must practice at home what it preaches abroad" (Reuters). Don't you agree?