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Monday, October 21, 2013

Why Cops Shouldn't Have Guns: The Thrill of the Kill

Some of you may have followed the news concerning the shooting of Miriam Carey after she allegedly attempted to ram a barrier in front of the White House earlier this month. I posted about the incident  here and here. I wish that I had followed my initial instincts, which was that it sounded like a confused, out-of-town driver that turned down the wrong lane, saw the barrier, attempted to turn around, struck the Secret Service Agent approaching her car, and panicked. However, there wasn't enough evidence at the time, so I held back.

Esther Goldberg, writing at the American Spectator, seems to have found facts suggestive of what my gut had been telling me:

Two weeks ago Miriam Carey, with her toddler child in the back seat, was gunned down by police and security officers after a harrowing car chase. We now know more about what happened, and what we’ve learned makes the shooting look wholly unjustified.
It would have been justified to kill Miriam had she tried to kill the president or a police officer. That’s not the story that’s emerging, however. Instead, it’s as reasonable to suppose that she took a wrong turn, had a small accident, and panicked.
 
According to the Oct. 14 Hartford Courant, the police report describes Miriam’s driving as “erratic.” Rather than stopping at a security checkpoint near the White House, she turned around and left, knocking down a policeman in her confused effort to escape. A car chase ensued, with police firing at her moving car, and when Miriam’s car was finally blocked in so she could not move, the police fired into her car, killing her. She didn’t have a chance. 
Was Miriam “a potential assassin or a confused, frightened person suffering from mental illness trying to get herself out of danger,” the Courant asks. It doesn’t answer the question, and the doubt it expresses suggests that it’s open season on people who have small accidents with a barrier near the White House. When in doubt forget the presumption of innocence, shoot to kill. 
A similar note of doubt has also begun to creep into the opinions of the intellectuals and experts who had previously been certain that Miriam was a potential killer. In an October 10 Washington Post opinion piece, John Jay professor James Mulvaney suggested that if a suspect doesn’t obey an officer’s command, they should “try a different approach…..Try a request instead of an order. Shouting like an Army drill sergeant can be counterproductive…” And that doesn’t even begin to describe what happened. Instead, there was a wild police chase, with a half dozen policemen shouting at Miriam and waving military grade weapons. 
So maybe Miriam wasn’t a “potential assassin.” For the police apologists, maybe she was simply suffering from a mental illness. I wasn’t aware that that was grounds for execution, but then I’m a little out of touch with modern theories of capital punishment. The problem, however, is where is the proof? The press has jumped on this, with the same absolute certainty with which they had previously identified her as a killer, but where’s the evidence? Her doctor hasn’t confirmed that she was unbalanced. Her sisters and friends deny it. Prescriptions for the anti-depressants Risperidone and Lexapro were found in Miriam’s apartment. Big deal. Over half the country must be on one form or other of these medications. And no medications were found by police who searched her apartment and her car. In any event, even assuming that being on anti-depressants is a capital offense, how did the police know about this when they killed her? On the bright side, we’ll have gone a long way to cutting health care costs if cops get to shoot people who are subsequently discovered to be on anti-depressants. 
All this misses what’s going on. For those who want to justify the unjustifiable, it’s important to make us think that Miriam was different from us. Otherwise we might think that this could have happened to any one of us who made a wrong turn and panicked. In my husband’s admittedly politically incorrect opinion, “She was just driving like a woman.” (War on women, anyone?) 
If she was just like any of us, then it follows that the police might one day try to kill us. Because it’s not so uncommon these days for ordinary police officers to fire at American citizens. And there’s no public outcry. When did the lives of ordinary Americans become disposable?
 I'm jaded because most everyone I knew in high school that wanted to be a cop said, publically, that it was so they could shoot people. But it is more than that; it is cops being trained to operate like military forces where you engage the enemy with the sole purpose of killing or destroying him. Problem is, when you are a cop, the "enemy" is the public. Maybe they are engaging a potentially dangerous perp, but sometimes it is just an unarmed, confused woman driving a car. And I think this story amply demonstrates the "thrill" part of the whole operation by the sheer number of federal law enforcement that showed up in the aftermath--more than defended Washington D.C. against the British during the War of 1812.

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