Civilian deaths at the hands of police, soldiers, and other security forces are so common in war-torn countries that it is called collateral damage. One objective of war is to limit collateral damage enough to ensure the civilian population supports the security forces instead of the combatants. As neighborhoods and highways become warzones, or at least are perceived as warzones, the police are being “militarized.” Accordingly, the mission of the police is no longer to “protect and serve.” Their mission is to eliminate the combatants in the war on terrorism and the war on crime while minimizing civilian deaths.
The Mexican Drug War, which serves as an example that happens to border the US, has resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people. Where the Mexican military has been asked to help “police” the drug cartels, the Mexican police have been asked to fight a war with well-armed, well-funded terrorist organizations that often enjoys strong community support. The result has included a mounting number of civilian abuses and murders at the hands of security forces. In the US, the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling help illustrate the hazards of a militant police force.
The case of Alton Sterling is one where two police officers, who seemingly had adequate training and experience, shot a man they had pinned to the ground. Not only did the two police officers apparently start and escalate a confrontation with Mr. Sterling, who was selling CD’s in front of a store with the blessing of the owner, both officers had been investigated for excessive force in the past. Reacting to the presence of Sterling’s gun after they detained him, the two officers shot Mr. Sterling instead of securing the gun. It appears the two officers approached Sterling with the mindset that Mr. Sterling was nothing more a threat to the community in need of punishment instead of a member of the community.
In the case of Philando Castile, a post-shooting recording by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds shows a police officer aiming his weapon at the wounded Castile as he bleeds to death. Instead of immediately securing Castile’s weapon and rendering him aid, the police officer freezes in a defensive stance. Where the officer is heard screaming at Ms. Reynolds as he rationalizes why he shot Castile, the girlfriend demonstrates an eerie level of control and calm that the officer’s training should have instilled into him.
As the Second Amendment and First Amendment allow US citizens to carry guns and express their views against police, this officer clearly should have been trained to cope with the stress of armed and argumentative civilians. Where a deadly accident between two armed civilians might be expected, this officer should have been able to control his emotions, properly access the situation, and deescalate the potential for a lethal confrontation. Instead of securing Mr. Castile’s firearm, before asking for his documentation, the Officer apparently made conflicting requests then shot Mr. Castile when he reached for his wallet.
Unfortunately, the Castile and Sterling killings triggered the so-called Dallas Shootings, which resulted in the murder of five police officers The several hour shootout and standoff ended when police attached a one pound C4 plastic explosive charge to a robot, which was designed to disarm bombs, then used it to kill the perpetrator, who was Army Reserve Veteran of the Iraq War. Clearly, eliminating a threat with an explosive is something the military usually does in a military zone, not something the police do.
It is understandable that such an incident would end in the death of the shooter. It goes without saying that such incidents place police officers and civilian in grave danger, so it is necessary to end such incidents as quickly and safely as possible. The killing of suspect is, however, supposed to be a last resort. Clearly, the officers involved in the Dallas Shooting were probably dealing with a great deal of very intense emotions, but police work requires officers to forgo their emotional impulses, which is why civilians are expected to inappropriately react, and rely on their training to remain in control and keep the peace.
In the wake of the Dallas Shootings, the visually strained Dallas Police Chief David Brown declared “we are asking cops to do too much in this country,” such as policing schools. Police resources may not always be adequate in troubled communities and the Federal government may not always play an sufficient support role, but there is an issue of mission creep. Since the September 11th 2001terrorst attacks, the police have been asked to play the role of military in the war on terrorism and the war on crime. While they may not necessarily be in a perpetual warzone, they are being trained to respond as though they are guards at an armed checkpoint.
Police are members of a community whose job happens to be keeping the peace; they are not here to suppress insurgent threats in a perpetual warzone.
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