Citizen’s Arrest

The Arbery case raises a lot of questions about how we should pursue criminal justice.

The primary purpose of this post is to examine profiling, the extent to which private citizens can act similar to police officers, the proportionality of the use of force to restrain a possible suspect, and to what extent a person can defend themselves when a neighbor wrongfully but ignorantly confronts them with weapons like guns, baseball bats, etc.  

Racial profiling is defined as “the act of suspecting or targeting a person of a certain race on the basis of observed or assumed characteristics or behavior of a racial or ethnic group, rather than on individual suspicion.” 

But not all profiling of a person with certain ethnic traits is really true racial profiling.

A surveillance camera caught the appearance of a burglary suspect.
The McMichaels believed Arbery matched the appearance of this suspect.
Profiling is when you have a reasonable suspicion that a person might be the suspect in question based on a few corresponding observations.

Racial profiling is evil primarily because it often goes beyond reasonable suspicion to improperly assumed guilt about a person when there is no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

The profiling that the McMichaels seemed to have performed really is not true racial profiling because it is not motivated by racial intent.  They were not out to kill an innocent black man. They did not have premeditated malicious intent.  They just wanted to act like police officers and stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived.

Now one could question the legitimacy of private citizens acting like overzealous wannabe cops, but this would then bring us to our question of under what circumstances should a citizen’s arrest be performed.

Georgia’s courts have previously ruled that while a citizen can detain someone, a citizen’s arrest doesn’t necessarily allow for uses of force.

This sounds reasonable, but what happens in cases where the suspect is armed and threatens the life of the citizen trying to assist in the arrest?

One might say this situation is why private citizens should just wait for the proper authorities to arrive. But this course of action often decreases the likelihood that the culprit will be caught in time for him or her to face justice. In light of this observation, is there ever any cases in which it might be permissible for seeing a suspect jogging down the street, assuming he might be the culprit, grabbing a gun for self-protection, and chasing him down to assist police officers?

Is it always wrong to do this or are there cases and circumstances where it might be permissible for private citizens to act similar to cops provided certain protocols are followed to minimize the chances of wrongly killing an innocent person?

After all, Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law requires that the offender must have committed a crime in the presence of another person, or that person must have “immediate knowledge” of a crime that has taken place by the perpetrator. These stipulations certainly help constrain and reduce the possibility of arbitrary vigilante justice. This stipulation of immediacy certainly helps reduce the likelihood of situations happening where a person has to defend himself when a neighbor wrongfully but ignorantly confronts them with weapons like guns, baseball bats, etc.

The very difficult aspect of a citizen’s arrest is knowing the force proportionate to the circumstance. Ideally the only force reasonable under the circumstances may be used to restrain the individual arrested. However, in the fog and chaos of chasing or fighting a possible perpetrator, such rational judgments are not always possible. 

Private citizens effectively share in the same risks and responsibilities as police officers when confronting a person of suspicion.

In 2004, a convenience store owner shot an intruder who broke into the store after the store owner told him to halt.  Even though the store owner was right in attempting to stop the intruder, the measure of force used was disproportionate to the circumstance.  But in such a situation, it’s not always easy to potentially let the suspect go free and in the immediacy of the situation milder forms of restraint do not always come to mind or become accessible or present.

In 2017, a citizen may chase a neighbor whom he believes had burglarized his home and attack the man with a baseball bat. A problem exists when gentler methods of restraint could be used, especially in light of the fact the neighbor could have been truly innocent and thus did not need to suffer physical abuse.

In the Arbery case, the McMichaels brought guns just in case the suspect was armed and they themselves had a way to defend themselves.  But at the same time, Arbery was innocent and also wanted to defend himself against the guns that his neighbors brought and so he fought back.  This situation brings up a big gray area.

Citizens have a right to defend themselves in cases of arresting a possibly armed subject.
Yet innocent people also have a right to defend themselves when a stranger confronts them with guns.

Even though we should do our best to protect innocent people from wrongful harm or death, it is also necessary to have protocols in place that allows even private citizens the best chance of arresting a possible suspect to bring him to justice.  But balancing these two interests requires a lot of fine-tuning.

I do not necessarily have the answers to these questions, but it’s important to ask these types of questions in the first place.

Preparing for Good Friday

If you were to ask me what I think about Good Friday, I would say that Good Friday is the most outrageous event in human history.

At the center of the day is this event: The God, who created the cosmos that Stephen Hawkings admired, died at the hands of the people He created.
What a tragedy when creation does not recognize and even kills its own Creator.
“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:14-15a).

We know from our reality such saddening events as the following:
-Lupus and other autoimmune diseases are when the human body attacks itself.
-Civil wars are tragic because you have brother pitted against brother, or a government attacking its own citizens.
Perhaps we recognize the unimaginable moral ugliness and offensiveness of such events precisely because they ultimately point us to our failure to recognize our Creator, even to the point of killing Him.

Now what makes the death of Jesus, God the Son in the flesh, even more outrageous is that He willingly gave up His life on our behalf.  He knew that He would be killed by His own people and He gave His life up so that He could secure their reconciliation to Himself.

We humans are mere specks compared to God, and even more than that, we committed high treason against Him. For all intents and purposes, God could have left us alone since we were the party that broke off our agreement with Him.  We have forsaken the LORD, we have despised the Holy One of Israel, and we are utterly estranged from Him.

But God on His own initiative went to the trouble of securing the means of our forgiveness and reconciliation.

The significance of Good Friday would make headlines that you would not see any time soon:
-King dies for traitorous rebels.
-Husband dies for a wife that cheated on him.
-Father dies for a son that hated him and ran away from home.
-Man takes the place of someone on death row who was guilty of killing his family.

In essence: we have a holy God dying for sinful mankind.

Given that we have a Creator that gave His life up for our sake to bring us back to Him when we forfeited that right to His presence, how much more should leaders at every level of society use their authority in a manner that seeks the good of the people in their care even if it comes at their own expense.

World leaders such as Xi Jinping, Kim Jung-un, Bashar al-Assad, Putin, and Trump are all in a position of authority, and they have a moral responsibility to use that authority for the good of their people and of their neighbors.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Wayne LaPierre are both people who have used their authority and influence in ways that have caused people a lot of harm and destruction.  They both propagated a narrative that has led to the deaths of innocent people. The police, military, and other law enforcement officers have a moral responsibility to exercise their authority in a responsible manner and not put to death innocent people even as they do what they can to bring guilty individuals to justice.

In our country, we hope our lawmakers would find sense in creating legislation that can bring justice and accountability to such things as immigration, gun safety, environmental issues, sexual identity, police brutality, abortion, opioids, Syrian refugees, and the like.  With a proper understanding of force of law, and doing our best to wield that authority properly, we have to do what we can to find common ground and put forth measures that will benefit us all.

Good Friday is also a picture of forgiveness.
Forgiveness builds bridges, but it is costly.

Note also that Jesus did not wait for us to apologize before He came and took the initiative to set out measures needed to secure our forgiveness and reconciliation. We were the guilty party and by all intents and purposes, we should have been the ones to ask God for forgiveness. God already secured the means of our reconciliation before we even asked for it.  How much more should we adopt the same gracious attitude towards one another?

Both sides, the right and the left, have to swallow their prides for forgiveness to happen.
The right have been called racists, fascists, and bigots and the left have been called “libtards,” snowflakes, and commies.  Both sides have members that are quick to demonize the others, but there are also those who do not dive into such extremes, and they are just not as vocal and public as the more outrageous, outspoken individuals.

This past presidential election has done a lot in dividing this country.  Perhaps it is time that we do what we can to heal the divide before it gets worse.  I would love to see more conversation happen between the two sides of this country.  I would like to see bridges built instead of burnt.

Both sides should not have to wait for the other side to apologize to start having a civil discourse about the things we need to do to help our country pursue justice and the public good.  Once one side calls the other side names, that just shuts the conversation down and we would not get anywhere productive. My proposal is to ask both sides to see the best in others even when they fail to give it back to you.

In other words, be gracious with your opponent.

Take some time to hear from the other side, and do not immediately shut their arguments down by calling it “bigoted” or “socialist”, but at least take some time to explain why you think such and such an argument is unsound and unhelpful.  Also it is far too easy to make a straw man of the other side, so at least actively look for the best arguments put forth by the other side and work with the people who have nuanced, thoughtful opinions instead of those who dive into an all or nothing mentality.

To conclude my thoughts:
-Good Friday is the most outrageous event in human history:
God became human and gave up His life on behalf of people who wanted nothing to do with Him.
Some implications for us:
-ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior so you can be reconciled to God
-if reconciled to God, you should now behave in a manner befitting of your renewed allegiance
Some things that Jesus modeled for us to imitate:
-authority is at its best when it seeks the good of others even at its own cost, so seek self-sacrificial leadership
-forgiveness is costly but it builds bridges and is proactive, seeking to respect others even before respect is received, so be gracious to your opponent for the sake of unity