American Policing

Policing has almost always been a morally difficult task.

The general steps involve target acquisition/profiling, knowing when to detain someone, appropriate level of force for restraint, and use of deadly force for self-defense whether as a police officer or private citizen.

We’re balancing the competing interests of apprehending the bad guy and leaving innocent civilians alone.

Ideally, we have presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

We have different levels of standards of proof: Reasonable suspicion, probable cause, preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, beyond reasonable doubt

Say you are a private citizen or police officer on the general lookout for a culprit.
What do you do when you see someone who fits the description of a culprit?
We do not presently have the ability to perfectly determine whether a person is the culprit or an innocent civilian.
But reasonable suspicion is a low legal standard for briefly detaining a suspect for investigatory purposes.
Innocent parties feel harassed when they get detained, but you also still have to catch the bad guy.

Deputies may point a rifle at someone because he fits the description of an active shooter while the suspect walks home from campus.
Ideally, such an encounter may be tense but innocent parties are still left unharmed, but fight or flight responses often kick in, and mistakes can unfortunately happen where they are fatal and final.
A private citizen who is inappropriately detained with guns pointed at him may justifiably pull out his own weapons for self defense, but in which case, police officers, still not knowing whether the person they detained is the culprit or not, will also aim their guns in self defense.

One person describes some of the unfortunate times where he feels penalized for having dark skin in America:
-A car follows him as he walks home from a party. The person had to hide in a stairwell because the car’s occupants got out and chased him.
-This is definitely an unfortunate and terrifying experience.
-But assuming the car’s occupants were private citizens trying to do a citizen’s arrest, they should at least just detain the man with the least amount of force necessary and leave him alone if he did not say anything that may condemn him.
-If the car’s occupants departed from this standard, they should be held accountable for inappropriate vigilante-like justice.

-He has to take precautions with his actions because as a large, tattooed, black man, his actions may be seen as threatening.
-I empathize. It would be nice if we lived in a world where we did not have to worry so much about our public perception for fear of being unjustly harassed or detained. But we do have fight or flight responses for a reason, although we should try to control the degree we let such fear drive our attitudes and actions, but this is not the easiest thing to do.

Friends say he is “not really black” or “not a thug like that guy.”
-These statements are unfortunate. They do betray a racist generalization that is not helpful for anyone. These statements paint with a broad stroke an entire ethnic group with criminal traits. It’s hard to ascertain how many people actually hold this generalization, but for probably the few who do, they should be made aware of it and learn to reprogram their thinking.

Some justifiable feeling of being wronged or facing injustice:
-A state of paranoia because at any given time “someone could no longer deem my life valuable.”
-I can understand how he might feel this way, but this perspective is too extreme. It seems the issue at stake in our criminal justice system is not that private citizens or police officers no longer deem black Americans’ lives valuable, but that the tense instantaneous situation between an armed officer and an innocent civilian who may fight back in self-defense often ends in the death of the civilian. So what tangible steps could be taken so this kind of situation happens less frequently?
-Willing to spill my own blood in service of the people of this country, there are Americans that believe I don’t belong here.
-Again, I can understand how he feels “there are Americans that believe I don’t belong here,” but this is again an extreme perspective. There might be a few who actually hold this view, but it’s more probable that most of our neighbors just want to mind their own business.
-Owning weapons because no one is coming to save me and I’ll have to protect myself.
-This is an unfortunate feeling to have, but again, we make do with what we’re given, and we try enacting reforms where we can. This person feels he cannot trust the government or the local police station with some justification. He does raise a good point that police stations should work hard to earn the trust of the neighborhoods they patrol, but again this is not the easiest thing to do when criminals look similar to and usually try to act like innocent citizens to avoid arrest.
-Character assassination if I wind up a snuffed out flame on side of some country road or big city street.
-I generally agree with this point. Sometimes whenever someone dies from alleged police brutality, major news outlets may reveal that the person who died had some secret criminal history. It seems they do this to better justify the “justice” that was done against the victim, but really the criminal history is irrelevant unless it directly pertains to the alleged crime that the suspect was charged with, and even then, use of deadly force should be avoided if at all possible.
-Staying distant from BLM for fear of being labeled militant, communist, freeloader, a welfare king, a thug, a gangster, a criminal, a cop hater, anti-American, a snowflake, a leech on society, etc.
-This man is free to voice his grievances and concerns with our criminal justice system, but he also has to be willing to hear and listen to the other side too. Not the ones who engage in ad hominem arguments, but the ones who point out that we still need a criminal justice system in place to apprehend criminals, and that even though we should reform the criminal justice system so less innocent people are harmed, this is not always possible given limited information technology and the bias that fight or flight responses have on tense, instantaneous situations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s