Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Police Protection Of Another Sort

Indictments have been handed down in last November’s police shooting of unarmed members of a bachelor party outside a strip club in Queens.
There are still a lot of conflicting accounts about what happened that night. Did the plainclothes policemen identify themselves as such? The police say yes, but others say no. Did the victims have a gun? No, but the police involved seemed to think so.

A perceived threat to their lives was the officers’ justification for firing some 50 shots (one officer emptied his magazine and then reloaded; some bullets went into a train station, and some into a nearby house) into a car with the aforementioned revelers. Groom Sean Bell died, and two others were seriously injured.

It wasn’t just the (nonexistent) gun that was considered a danger by the police, but the fact that the vehicle carrying Bell and his friends smashed into an unmarked police car. We’ve all heard of instances of a car being used as a weapon, and police opening fire on the driver to prevent harm to themselves and others at the scene.

My fear is sometime, let’s say in bad weather, myself or someone else may lose control of a car and accidentally plow it into a police car. The collision isn’t my biggest concern; it’s that the police officers in the other vehicle may interpret the collision as a deliberate, hostile act, and open fire.

Though road rage and highway shootings are a reality, ordinary folks can’t just jump out of a car and shoot others who’ve collided with them. Why should the police be allowed to do so?

Elsewhere this week, a mentally disabled woman died after going into cardiac arrest while being restrained by police.

I know how she feels. Sort of.

Standard police procedure when dealing with a potentially dangerous individual is, prudently, to immobilize them. The problem with some restraint methods is that they can exacerbate an already dicey situation.

For instance, being pressed face down on the ground, with a couple of 200-pound men holding you down with their knees. This, as they are telling you to calm down and submit.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of experience would elicit a fight or flight (panic) feeling in me. Calm isn’t possible for me when I feel smothered or claustrophobic. The instinct for survival kicks in when one is restrained, even if one deserves to be restrained.

This instinct was a factor in the infamous Rodney King beating at the hands of police. He was being ordered to lie down, spread out his limbs and go limp. But when you’re receiving blows, your natural instinct is to curl up in a tight ball to protect yourself. The officers' words were saying one thing, but their actions were ensuring the opposite would happen.

The self-preservation instinct (which even animals have) does not go away simply because a person in uniform gives us orders that conflict with it. I believe there was no way Mr. King could have complied with the officers’ instructions, under those circumstances, even if he was under the influence, and being difficult.

The same may have been true for the unfortunate woman who just died.

The job of the police officer is surely not an easy one. You may deal with unpredictable people and dangerous situations every day of the week. But if in doing that job you become a danger to others, your methods need to be reassessed.


LeftLeaningLady said...

Unfortunately most (not all) of the police officers I know (I was married to one) react the same when putting on the uniform, gun and badge. Call it the God syndrome, or the Southern Sheriff Syndrome or asshole syndrome, they begin to think they can do no wrong. And what happens? LA burns, Sean Bell dies and a child is murdered on camera under the direct supervision of a nurse and our taxes will have to be paid to the parents of that child. A sad commentary on our times when you stop to realize that all of the victims were black. So, I think you will be ok, but wouldn't it be nice if everyone was?

Pete Bogs said...

certainly not all police do things this way... but I do think there is what I would call an arrogance that comes with authority that would prevent some from changing their ways, or even listening to other suggestions... "we're professionals, we know best" kind of thing... obviously, these incidents speak to the potential for greater problems ahead...

PS: actually did collide with a police car one time... it was their fault, and the city ended up fixing the car and renting me another...

LeftLeaningLady said...

Saw this news story this morning and it made me think of your blog.


Pete Bogs said...

Jeez, what a guy, huh?

Double D said...

There is always the 10% in any organization that are scumbags. Its the same whether you work on Wall Street or at the local bakery. The issue here is the job that cops have is so volatile, dangerous, and has a lot of gray area.

Bogs, what are you saying? We do away with cops? Take their guns away? You may need to resign this issue to the status of a necessary evil.

Pete Bogs said...

DD - am saying better training is needed, or something... I could never accept the fact that you, me, or someone we care about may face a police firing squad for an accident... those stakes are too high... I acknowledge in this post that police have a tough job... but there's time when restraint is called for... like these "contagious shooting" incidents... like that unarmed guy in NYC who took 41 shots... like that old lady who was recently shot because the police bashed her door down and she thought it was a home invasion... she was waiting with a gun... this is not acceptable, and never will be...