Monday, June 18, 2007

What a Lie a Half-Truth Can Be

Whenever I think about writing the civilian Use of Force manual, I think about building bridges. I think that if I can take these protesters and talking heads just a little bit into our world and make them see that violence isn't like in the movies, isn't like a video game they might understand a little bit. If I can show them that sometimes when an officer acts and the outcome is horrible it was still the best option. If I can just get them to understand that there are situations where not everyone is walking out and we won't all be friends afterwards and people are not Care Bears then maybe, just maybe, when an officer pulls a trigger and changes many lives forever (including his own) in profound and horrible ways they might not jump so quickly to scream "murder" and "fascist" and "cover-up". It's a dream I have.

I have to get over it. There is a small group that hate so much that no words, no reason, no logic and no experience is likely to break through. I watched a video today, a local production, an "expose" of a local shooting. They are voiciferous in their accusations of lies and cover-ups and the murder of a harmless, innocent, naked and injured man...and in doing so, they lie. Sometimes a half-truth, sometimes a lie of breathtaking boldness.

I don't want to watch the video again, so the things in quotation marks will be from memory, with the possible innacuracy inherent in that.

A demagogue screaming to the crowd: "They approached this defenseless man with guns drawn. Why didn't they call the paramedics?"

The paramedics were there, less than a hundred yards away and afraid to get any closer.

A commentator: "When an officer comes on the scene with a gun drawn and a loaded shotgun you know that in his mind he has already decided to use force."

The officers were there and armed to protect the firefighters who were trying to put out the three brushfires cause by the suspect's burning car. The same call that had alerted 911 of the fires had also said they heard gunshots. It was probably the tires on the car exploding in the heat, but the officers had no way of knowing that. Shots fired- you get your weapon out. Approaching a suspect when shots fired has been reported, you get your weapon out. Slow is dead.

The narrator: "When police murder someone they go on a witch hunt to find anything in the person's past to make him look bad. In this case, they could find nothing."

Bullshit. The suspect had just rear ended a car at 70 mph, forcing that woman off the road and then went for a second car before losing control himself. The threat's car wrecked and ignited. The threat attacked the first good samaritan who tried to help him and tried to lure others toward him with taunts. He stripped naked and prowled through a residential district growling at people and jumping up on a citizen's car and pounding on it. That's nothing?

The narrator again: "By their own admission, he was sitting quietly on the road. He needed medical attention, not to be abused and murdered. They Tased him. This can only be called torture."

The trouble with sitting quietly on the road in an altered mental state is that you might get run over. Or you might surprise somebody and have them swerve and get innocent people killed. Or you might change your mind and start attacking people. The officers can't take that chance and are required to act. He did need medical attention, but the paramedics were afraid to get closer unless he was handcuffed. If you think you can get handcuffs on someone in excited delirium with some nifty wrist locks or wrestling, you might have a shallow grave in your future. Taser was the option least likely to result in injury.

The demagogue again: "He had no gun. He had no knife. He was not a threat to these officers and they murdered him."

Where to begin? No one has ever been killed with bare hands? No officer has ever had their weapon taken away by a threat? Officer Lisa Alsobrooks Lawrence who was killed with her own gun by a man exhibiting the same symptoms would be comforted to know it. It would give her grave a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Lastly I need to justify the altered mental state allegation. Normal people don't, generally, try to run other people off the road. They don't attack people who try to help them. They don't strip off all their clothes and then pace through residential areas growling and howling. They usually respond to pain, such as the lacerations and burning from the car wreck. When confronted by officers with drawn weapons, people in a normal state of mind do what they are told to do. Shrugging off a taser, much less giggling and advancing, is a pretty good sign of an altered mental state. Lastly, normal people don't charge a gun. I feel pretty confidant in judging this young man to have been in an altered mental state.

What kind of altered mental state? This tends to be hard for civilians who want things to be right and just and make sense: It doesn't matter. Whether it was caused by grief or shock or adult-onset schizophrenia or drugs doesn't matter, not in the moment. People are more comfortable with force used on people who do drugs because there is a perception that it is more 'fair'. They had it coming. People should not be hurt for things they can't control, such as mental illness or shock.

It's a nice argument, but irrelevant. Officers don't use force to be fair. There is no justice or right or balance of good and evil with force and kindness. Officers use force to stop behavior (stop the shooting, the beating) or to compel behavior (turn over, handcuffs on). If someone must be cuffed and refuses, why he refused is not relevant. The cuffs must go on and the officers are required to use the minimum force that will safely make that happen. If the threat has an altered mental state that changes what force will work, the source of the mental state does not matter.

A dog savaging your child needs to be shot to prevent your child from dying. Does it matter whether the dog is mean or suffering from rabies? The behavior must be controlled and what steps are taken are based on the behavior.


aaron said...

My special contempt is for those who know better, and report things the way they do because screw the truth, sensationalism sell better...

Anonymous said...

I can take a small subset of facts from the total array of facts. I will choose this subset based on what I already believe to be true or what I want to be true. I can use inflections in my voice and my eye movement to convey hints of sympathy or bullshit depending on what I happen to be saying at the time. I get a phd to represent what I want to be true, and a country bumpkin to represent the other side. Wala! I have a truthful news story and a pulpit. ---and I wondered in my younger days how news stories could be biased if only the "truth" was being presented--laughable and naive was I


drew said...

Watched it. Hated it.

Mac said...

Print media is fine for our rants and raves (that fall on deaf ears). How about a radio talk show (CopTalk?) where these very issues can be aired and the point of view of those who know, who have 'seen the elephant' can, perhaps, explain reality.

Rory said...

The problem, Mac, is that it goes back to what Jeff said. The only people that listen will be the ones that want to hear that side. Everyone else will just brand it another conservative talk show and decide it is part of the community. I've missed you old friend. See you Saturday?