Police Versus Community

By Malik Owens

Police officers who beat and shoot unarmed men and women in the streets are not the problem. This has been going on for a very long time and it will continue to happen. What we, as communities across America, have yet to grasp is why these violent and deadly encounters happen by those we expect to serve and protect us.

Whenever a police shooting of an unarmed citizen or excessive use of force happens we quickly condemn the officers involved as “bad apples” or “rouge officers.” Surviving family members hang our hopes on convicting these bad officers in an attempt to get justice.

What we do not seem to understand in this conversation is that these are not “bad officers.” The reality is that the few officers who are caught committing these acts are reacting normally given their training, police culture and American culture in general. We will not get justice in most cases hoping for these officers to be successfully prosecuted and sent to prison.

Why? It’s simple. Policy. The policy of law enforcement in use of force situations is to preserve the life and safety of the officer whenever they feel threatened or obstructed in their duties.

Reread that last sentence and sit with it for a few. Think about every scenario where police have beaten or fatally wounded an unarmed person. It is the reason most of them are not convicted wrong-doing when they are charged for misconduct.

Justine Ruszczyk (also known as Justine Damond) was fatally shot by police in her neighborhood after calling them to come and investigate a possible sexual assault. In a press conference about the shooting Police Chief Janeé Harteau stated that “these were the actions and judgment of one individual.” This is not about the actions and judgment of one individual. In fact, this is the results of bad policies that pit all officers, “good” or “bad,” against communities where people who should be the safest they could hope to be once the police show up are needlessly losing their lives.

The problem with policing is policy. The Washington Post reported recently that an unnamed FBI agent has been indicted in Oregon where Ammon Bundy associate Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was fatally shot to death during an armed takeover of a wildlife reserve http://m.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jun/27/fbi-agent-indicted-ammon-bundy-oregon-refuge-stand/. Finicum was driving from the reserve to a meeting in a heated battle over cattler’s rights to graze their animals on public property.
The unnamed agent isn’t being indicted for unlawfully shooting Finicum. Finicum was armed with a 9 millimeter hand gun. The indicted agent wasn’t even the one who actually shot or killed the 54 year old militiaman. That agent is not being indicted for the killing. So why is this agent being indicted? Because he lied about shooting his gun at all that day. The agent shot twice at Finicum and missed.

In an interview on a news channel a supervising FBI agent stated that had the agent not lied about discharging his weapon that day he most likely would not have been indicted for the shooting which took place as Finicum was exciting the SUV and before he reached for his weapon. When asked why the agent would not hand been indicted, the supervising agent replied that all the agent would have had to do was claim that he was in fear for his safety and the shooting would’ve been justified. Again, the shots were fired as Finicum exited the vehicle before he reached for his firearm.

A Washington Post database identified 963 killings by police in 2016. According to http://www.datausa.io website there are 737 thousand police officers working throughout the country. Most officers will never in their entire career kill another person by using their firearm or otherwise. But the ones who do are usually justified by policies created to protect the life and health of the officer. When did our lives become second in priority to the safety of those who are duty bound to protect us?

What also needs to be said is that it’s dangerous to be cop. I wouldn’t want to do it. As a cop, it takes a split second to determine whether you will make it home to your family and friends or not. Crime is real. Violence is embedded in American culture like baseball and apple pie. Police are isolated in their impossible jobs with incredible expectations. It really is a miracle that this doesn’t happen everyday.

To be balanced, police culture is problematic as well. Why is anyone surprised that certain communities that are heavily policed have lost faith and trust in the department? How can community members trust an agency that encourages them to tell on their neighbors while officers are severely ostracized for rating out another officer? 

Instead of focusing on the “bad cops” or even “bad training” it would save lives on both sides to focus on bad policy.


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