By Jack Steveson. June 27, 2020. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Demonstrations as massive as those that occurred in the late 1960s as a result of dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War and as widespread as the recent demonstrations protesting police behavior indicate that American democracy is not functioning properly. Massive displays of animosity develop when governments fail to take incremental steps to address citizen concerns.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jack Stevenson is retired. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Currently residing in Pensacola, FL, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and occasionally writes non-exclusive commentary for Blowing Rock News.
All opinions expressed by Mr. Stevenson are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Blowing Rock News or its managers and employees.
Police officers provide a vital public service as do firefighters and emergency medical crews. Without police, we would have chaos. However, police like everyone else, need to be accountable for their actions. Cameras are making that accountability unavoidable. Police officer behavior is influenced by legislators at all levels of government and by prosecutors, judges, and even by U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Sometimes police conduct is judged by juries of private citizens. Police do not act alone.
Would a resident be justified in shooting first and asking questions later?
Consider the no knock search warrant. Using military tactics, a police team, usually a special weapons and tactics team (SWAT), smashes the door of a residence, usually pre-dawn, rushes in, weapons drawn, wearing face masks, and maybe tossing a flash-bang grenade to disorient the residents. On some occasions, they have entered the wrong residence. Would a resident be justified in shooting first and asking questions later? The no knock search warrant is inappropriate in America. But the police can’t do this type of raid on their own. The raid must be authorized by a judge who signs the warrant. Judges sign 45,000 no-knock warrants per year. It is time to put an end to this nonsense.
Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot eight times by plain clothes detectives during a no knock raid at a residence in Louisville, KY, on March 13, 2020. The raid was based on speculation that the police might find illegal drugs at the residence. No drugs were found.
Under what circumstances is a police officer justified in shooting a person? The answer should be that shooting is justified only when a person is committing an act or is known to have committed an act for which a judge could legally impose a death penalty or the maximum penalty in a state that does not apply the death penalty.
Prosecutors play a vital role in police behavior…Juries play a role in police behavior if they exonerate an officer who should have been convicted.
On June 12, 2020, an intoxicated Rayshard Brooks fought with two police officers than ran away. One of the police officers shot Brooks in the back while he attempted to run away. A judge would certainly have imposed a penalty for Brooks behavior, but it would not have been the death penalty.
Prosecutors play a vital role in police behavior. If a prosecutor declines to prefer charges, the offense doesn’t make it to court. Juries play a role in police behavior if they exonerate an officer who should have been convicted. Civilian police oversight boards often lack authority and some are ineffective.
Police officers often perform dangerous jobs, and they deserve our support. During the nine years from 2010 through 2018, an average of 138 police officers lost their lives each year in the line of duty. But police also kill about a thousand citizens per year. We need to reduce that number, not only for the benefit of the victims and their families, but also to protect the image of police officers. Police officers need to be trusted which also means that they need to be trustworthy.
Do we really need police? The June 22, 2020, Chicago Tribune reports that, over the weekend, 106 people were shot in Chicago. Yes, we need police.
Police act in accordance with the rules established by society and by the police behavior tolerated by government officials. If we want to prevent unwarranted police behavior, we must elect public officials who will deliver effective laws and oversight for police functions.