Sunday, October 09, 2005

Perceptions

Last night I read a detailed description of an old civil trial concerning an officer-involved shooting. It wasn't an official report and the reporter made no attempt to hide his or her bias. They wanted the "Murdering pig" to pay. The reporter wrote in detail as the plaintiffs presented their rock-solid case and described blow-by-blow as the plaintiffs attorneys shattered the flimsy defense.

The writer was shocked, absolutely shocked when the jury found unanimously in favor of the officer. So were the many people who posted, the people who thanked the writer for the account. It was clearly a miscarriage of justice...

Yet twelve people heard exactly what the reporter heard and NOT ONE came to the same conclusion. The reporter had made up his mind going in and heard what fitted, dismissed what didn't. Each member of the jury must have had a personal bias at some level, too, but the voir dire process is designed to weed out the blatant ones.

So where is my filter for this? I've been in enough violent encounters (but only one shooting) to never say. It's chaotic and sometimes you make a decision in a fractioon of a second on partial information that can impact many people for the rest of their lives. That's why officers and people with experience of violence when asked whether something in the news was a "good" shoot always say, "I don't know. I wasn't there." (And what's a "good" shoot anyway?)

There's a further slant, too. Of the last three local shootings that I'm aware of I didn't know any of the officers and I knew all of the crooks- and they were crooks. For fear of speaking ill of the dead the media largely ignored the criminal history, histories of violence and even the toxicology of the dead, and always used the word 'victim'.

Here's one to think about- a mental patient rushes an officer with a metal pole. Pepper spray (OC) has already been used on him with no effect. The officer fires.

To the officer it was a stocky crazy guy rushing with a weapon; ignoring the drawn firearm, verbal commands and shrugging off OC indicates a dangerously altered level of consciousness. Those factors, to the officer, combine to the decision that his life will be in danger if he doesn't fire.

To some it was a small, mentally disturbed patient brandishing an IV pole ruthlessly shot. His family swore that he was very gentle, had never harmed or threatened to harm anyone and was probably just confused.

To me? I wasn't there. I don't know. But less than twenty-four hours early that individual had been booked into my jail and suddenly turned and attacked me. I'd put him down and cuffed him without injury. Advantages of decades of training and experience? Maybe. Or maybe I just didn't have a firearm.

Who is right? The officer? The family? Where are their filters? Where are yours?

1 comment:

Mac said...

A good shoot is like a good landing - anyone you can walk away from.