Friday, July 08, 2016

What Matters

No one is asking for perfection.

As long as police departments continue to be staffed by human beings, and not sophisticated crime-fighting robots, tragic errors in judgement, sometimes brought on by racial biases, will continue to happen. No amount of training or culture shift can ever remove incompetency entirely. I get that.

Being a police officer can be a scary job, and when a quick reaction can be the difference between life or death, the calls get tough to make. I get that too.

And sometimes, sure, even when we see the videos, we can't quite tell what happened. The instant replay doesn't quite give us indisputable evidence either way. I get that too.

What I don't get... and what I'd imagine most decent people don't get... is how police departments and our elected so-called leaders can continue to erode the public trust by acting like all these shootings are just accidents, incompetence, or tough calls. As if it was some office worker who accidentally lost a big client, or the keynote speech just bombed, or Larry in accounting fudged the numbers.

If you kill someone, you haven't just failed at your job. You've killed someone. That's should be more than a fireable offense. Officers who pull their weapon and kill someone should face appropriate punishment. They've committed a crime. Many would charitably call it involuntary manslaughter.

Instead, there's this circle the wagons thing that happens every time. The police protect their own. The people have no faith justice will be served... because it never is. From Rodney King to Philando Castile, police officers who use excessive force go free or get a slap on the wrist. Fireable offense? Many aren't even fired!

There's an old saying the police like to repeat over and over--"Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6." Sure, we all would. The problem is, these officers are never judged by 12. That outcome is unfathomably rare. So an officer is left with a different calculus--the only thing holding them back is bad press. Shoot first--maybe be asked some questions later.

The public isn't demanding perfection. We know that's impossible. But we demand accountability. Killing someone isn't just some workplace fuck-up. Someone is dead! Why should an officer of the law get a pass? Because their job is tough? Because they got scared? Shouldn't we examine any evidence that suggests they didn't have to be? That someone didn't have to die? Those responsible for the murders of police officers in Dallas yesterday will be rightly captured, tried, convicted, and punished. What about the police officers responsible for murdering--however inadvertently--people they were sworn to protect and serve?

By all means, even up the racial makeup of the nation's police departments, so there is less disparity between the demographics of a police force and the community it serves. Put a camera on every cop, so there's a unbiased record of truth in every interaction. Train officers in peaceful deescalation of conflict and the proper procedures for securing a suspect. Work to break ingrained stereotypes and eliminate racial profiling. All that will help.

But the biggest thing that matters? When someone is killed needlessly, justice must be served. Right now, no one trusts the police, the justice system, or our politicians to do that. Of course there is anger toward law enforcement. Because they keep on treating these cases as if each victim was just a set of tragic circumstances, an unfortunate error, instead of a living, breathing person who didn't deserve to die.

I wonder why that is?

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