I didn't live through the sea-change brought about by Tennessee v. Garner. I started in 1991 and by then it was merely common sense: You don't shoot a fleeing suspect in the back just because he is fleeing. Not unless you have damn good reason to believe that he will kill someone else if you don't shoot.
(My favorite example, BTW, is the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" where a drunk Jimmy Stewart wrecks his car and then runs from the officer and the officer takes a pot shot. For some reason no one even blinks when they see that in such a sweet family film.)
"Mississippi Burning" is one of my favorite movies because it works on so many levels. It is about justice and injustice and changes in national perception and mood. It is about understanding the culture around you, whether ally or enemy. It is about getting the job done when the stakes are high enough... (and a side thought here, re-watching it the other night: the tactics that broke the case, in the movie, are the same tactics -though cruder and more vicious- than the worst of the tactics America has been accused of in hunting terrorists. To some eyes, one application is heroic, the other a despicable abuse of power. Do you see them as different? Which one heroic, which despicable? Or the same, as I do... and if you see them the same are both heroic, both wrong or something else?)
To the main point- it occurred to me that many of the injustices that spawned the civil rights movement were perfectly legal. In many states force, including deadly force, was legal if an officer met any resistance. When that is the background, there aren't a lot of rules.
Times have changed. Officers work under case law and precedent and generally quite detailed policy. Before 1985, was "Judicious Use of Force" even an academy subject? Now it is the one thing that never gets cut in annual refresher training, no matter how tight the budget. It is something officers spend many hours on, and most (I believe) have it down cold.
When there is an officer-involved shooting, the usual suspects come out of the woodwork to decry the incident and scream for more training and demand justice... Hmmm. The part that gets me is this even happens in things that look like good, even sterling shoots. It occurred to me today that outside of Law Enforcement, how many activists and civilians have even heard of Tennessee v. Garner? How many, especially of the big name activists, are just doing a schtick that they perfected in their glory days of the 60s and 70s?
I don't expect them to know the difference between a good shoot and a bad one or to be up on the arcane nuances of force law. If they are going to make a career out of squeaking about it, sure, I'd prefer if they knew what they were talking about... but that's a lot to ask.
This has been on my mind lately. I wrote a book a year ago, a Citizen's Guide to Police Use of Force. It will be perceived and maybe attacked as an apologist for the system, but that's not really the intent. The intent is that when these debates come up, regular citizens will have an easy-to-read reference that details the standards that police are held to and why, as well as the practicalities of actually applying standards in chaotic situations.
I was reluctant to offer Citizen's Guide. I really think that the people who need it most are incapable of setting their prejudices aside and so it would be meaningless. Also, parts of it are pretty personal. Tiff is the one who added enough weight to the balance to get the book to a publisher. The publisher wants it.
What I would really like is to have one of the 'usual suspects' write the foreword. Someone who reflexively agitates against the police whenever something happens. Someone with an anti-establishment following. But also someone who can read past preconceptions and see this for what it is: A piece of an ongoing debate. A side that is almost never represented by anyone who just knows the 'why' and lays it out there.
Anyone have access to an open-minded demagogue?