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.