05 December 2014

What is the role of Police in Society?

(AP / Jeff Roberson)
Let's take race out of it for a minute.  Let's reduce it to its most foundational level.  What is the role of police in our society?  I have always been under the impression it is to protect and serve, and to promote peaceful order.  Recent events, however, have made it seem like "kill and destroy" have creeped into the job description to undermine and in fact pervert the very things the police are supposed to stand for and preserve.  

When did we as a society accede to using deadly force as a cop's first option, rather than his absolute last?  If we don't begin with the premise that a trained police officer should be able to defuse a situation -- and subdue an unarmed subject without killing him -- then we're recklessly signing off on a police state. A place where all citizens, regardless of race or class, are equally threatened by an unaccountable and unchecked police force. No one wants a police state, liberals and conservatives alike.

What these recent cases have in common is that a man (or boy) is behaving suspiciously, but not altogether dangerously or life-threateningly.  There is a confrontation with police or security.  The man (or boy) winds up dead.  There's also another thing the cases have in common. The victims were all unarmed. 

Being a police officer is a difficult, thankless, and dangerous job.  Officers put their lives on the line every day and should be commended for it.  But surely the rules of engagement must include basic limitations on when to resort to deadly force.  As a bare minimum, lack of a firearm or deadly weapon on an assailant should automatically preclude a lethal response.  Cans of soda and skittles don't count as deadly weapons.   

If we accept that the role of police in our society is to protect and preserve life then we must accept that the tragic cases in Missouri, New York, and way too many towns and cities across our country have not met that standard. One death is too many.  One death is unacceptable.  That should be the baseline standard.

At first, it was heartbreaking.  Now it's become enraging.  We have to change because this is not justice.  This is not America. 

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