A while ago I wrote that police killings seem to be on the increase. We had one last Saturday in Boston. All that is known about it as I write is a woman and her boyfriend were involved in a domestic dispute, she called the police sometime after three o’clock in the afternoon, they responded, the woman was no longer in danger, they then confronted and killed the man, no police were injured, and the matter will be investigated by fellow police officers of the shooter and the district attorney.
We’re told the immediate precipitating cause of the homicide was that man turned on the police with knives. We can expect that the police shooting will be found to be justified. If precedent is followed, things will go back to business as usual. But this business as usual now is that there are more civilians being killed by police than at any time in the past.
The death of a person in a police encounter is a tragedy even if justified. We must examine this latest killing to determine whether things can be done better. We should not have a loss of life on an Saturday afternoon as a result of a domestic argument and assault.
I’m in no way suggesting the exoneration of the police officer, if that is the result of the investigation, will be wrong. The police officer acted in the immediacy of an ongoing and perhaps dangerous situation. I’m just suggesting that whatever procedures were used in this situation they produced a less than desirable outcome: the death of a person.
A middle of the day altercation with an obviously upset man having been in a fight with his girlfriend who was safe and no longer in danger when the police arrived should have turned out differently. Why not keep a safe distance from him and give him time to cool off? Why not use less than lethal weapons in these situations? Why not postpone the arrest, you know who the person is, until sometime later if the victim is safe. Where is the command structure with someone overseeing and controlling the event? Isn’t it better for the police officer to remove herself from danger rather than killing a person? Is there a lack of training that puts an officer in a situation where she feels he has to fire her weapon rather than retreating.
Since 9/11 our police departments have become more militarized. A year ago in April we saw the frightening numbers of police SWAT teams armed with AK47s or similar weapons, enough to repel an invasion by the Canadian army. Is that a factor in the increasing number of police killings?
If the Boston police officer’s actions are justifiable in killing the Lenox Street boyfriend we should not stop there. Without any scapegoating of the police officer, we must take this as an opportunity to review police procedures to see if we can ensure tragedies like these do not continually recur. The investigative report must tell us how situations like these can be handled in a better manner.
This killing and the murders at Fort Hood brought back to mind the killing of Ibragim Todashev in Orlando, Florida. Both the Department of Justice and Florida State’s Attorney said Todashev’s killing by the Boston FBI agent was justifiable. This kept the FBI’s record of not having an unjustifiable killing in the last 25 years unblemished.
Yet, the unwillingness of the Boston FBI agent to be interviewed by the Florida authorities leaves me with a sour taste. How can a person allege his actions were justifiable and fear being questioned about them by an independent but friendly inquirer? The natural response is to wonder what has the FBI agent got to hide.
You all know about the recent shooting out at Fort Hood in Texas. Contrast the response to that with how the FBI responded to the Orlando shooting. You may recall the FBI did not tell what happened until ten months after the incident. The Army general and investigators at Fort Hood are giving almost daily press conferences explaining what happened. Imagine if the Army acted like the FBI and made the matter a secret mystery for months on end how ill-served we would be.
The Army confronted a situation which happened over a two city block area involving hundreds of persons, three deaths and sixteen wounded. It is openly telling us all that it knows and learns as things progress; the FBI’s incident in Florida occurred in an apartment with four other law enforcement agents present and it took ten months for it to massage out its message. It show the big difference between a government agency that feels responsible to the people and one that is not. It shows an agency not afraid to examine its actions in the public light and another that lives in mortal fear of embarrassment. The FBI should bow its head in shame.
I suggest that if police homicides of persons not armed with a firearm are deemed justifiable it is not something we should tolerate as a society. Here are a couple of recent videos of unarmed men being justifiably killed by the cops. In one the chief noted the audacity of the deceased saying: “The suspect did in fact make a decision not to follow the directions that were provided to him by the officers,” In the other there are about a dozen police officers with guns aimed at the man who is unarmed with his hands up. Then we have the tragedy of that poor woman, Miriam Carey, with her child who was gunned down in Washington, DC.
We can do better as a society. I recognize we never hear about the great majority of times the police encounter situations fraught with danger where they do an excellent job in calming the situation. For that they deserve our thanks. However, l’d like to see efforts made to ensure than in no situation like here a death results. If the FBI can have a 100% clean record in killing people; then why can’t our police departments have a 100% clean record in not killing people in situations like this? We can and must do better.