Saturday, October 31, 2020

What will you do when they come for you?

Update note: If you do not read all the way to the very end, you will not learn who "they" refers to in the title. Hint: it is not the police.

This was left as a comment on FB by a former police officer named Michael. I will not use his last name here. 

True story : 911 call, son is threatening family with knife, me and 4 other cops on my team show up. I go around back of the house as others go in the front. As soon as I turn the corner the kid is on top of me with a knife. I fight with him and get stabbed in hand but we were able to get him handcuffed. He goes to get psyched clear before arraignment. DA lets him out. He returns home and stabs his father to death the same night his family comes and bails him out. Something to really think about.

I am thinking of the police shooting of black man Walter Wallace in Philadelphia last Monday. 

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Police shot and killed a 27-year-old Black man on a Philadelphia street after yelling at him to drop his knife, sparking violent protests that police said injured 30 officers and led to dozens of arrests.

The shooting occurred before 4 p.m. Monday as officers responded to a report of a person with a weapon, police spokesperson Tanya Little said.

Officers were called to the Cobbs Creek neighborhood and encountered the man, later identified as Walter Wallace, who was holding a knife, Little said. Officers ordered Wallace to drop the knife, but he instead “advanced towards” them. Both officers then fired “several times,” Little said.

Wallace was hit in the shoulder and chest. One of the officers then put him in a police vehicle and drove him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, Little said.

Riots followed, of course, demanding justice for Wallace, justice which included burning down a Vietnamese church. 

So here are my questions for ordinary people - not activists - to ponder about police:

  • If you call 9-1-1 because you are under threat of actual harm or death, do you want the police to respond? 

If not, of course, why call them at all? However, everyone should understand that police provide community service, not personal service. That means that police have no obligation either legally or contractually to place themselves in danger at all, not to protect you or anyone else. Your city or county is not obligated at all to send anyone to your 9-1-1 call.
  • If police do arrive and are placed under imminent danger of harm or death by the suspect, how do you think police should respond?
We all hope that Michael's example, above, would be the model - subdue the suspect and place him under arrest. But Michael was caught by surprise. Neither of the cops in Philly were. So here are the cops' choices:
  1. Use deadly force as the Philly officers did. 
  2. Wait until one of them is actually harmed before using deadly force.
  3. Try to subdue an armed assailant, perhaps under the influence of drugs, and hope that they don't get injured or killed while doing so. After all, "that's what they signed up for," right?
  4. Get back in their patrol car and leave.
Before settling on your final answer, consider whether your answer is different whether the suspect is white or black. Because I predict that is definitely something police will consider before acting before long. 
  • Get attacked by a white guy and shoot him to save their own lives: no controversy, standard investigation, routine media report and suspension of patrol duty while the investigation is done. Then back to work. 
     
  • Get attacked by a black guy and shoot him to save their own lives: immediate enormous controversy, intense investigation, intense media scrutiny, extended suspension of patrol duty while the investigation is done. Receive death threats against themselves and their families. Enormous legal costs. Be blamed for destruction caused by rioters and looters beginning that day.  Not returned to regular police duty for many months after the investigation is finished, perhaps not ever. 
There is a third option, and a huge number of police are taking it: retire if eligible or quit. Police retirements and resignations have risen this year by multiples. And police-force accessions are very, very low. I read of one big-city, new-cop class that graduated three new officers. Three. That same month 12 serving officers retired. They took at least 250 officer-years of experience with them.  

There is a looming, severe cop shortage in cities across the country. Police who want to stay in the biz are fleeing to rural counties, but those counties have only so many slots. 

We will see the day when dialing 9-1-1 will basically be met with silence. What will you do then?

The wealthy are already hiring former cops or military to protect them ("Luxury apartment buildings in New York City are hiring armed security to protect wealthy residents amid fear of election day unrest"). I mean, Jeff Bezos will not need to call 9-1-1, let's face it. But you and I? It will be open season on us by a growing and emboldened criminal class, which will be free to range far outside their present working area. Your quiet, no-crime suburb will not stay that way. And the poor, including black Americans whose lives are supposed to matter, will suffer perhaps worst of all. 

Do you want to defund or abolish police? Okay, fine. I hope you find a way to abolish criminals, too. If you don't, what will you do when they come for you?

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