Monday, December 21, 2009

License to Kill?

For one New Orleans resident, at least, all it takes for the Po-Po to be justified in shooting to kill is the Po-Po's perception of a threat. That's it. Read it to believe it:

Re: "Law and disorder," Page 1, Dec. 18.

A the time of Katrina I was a New Orleans police officer working in the city. The recent series of articles about police shootings after Katrina was some of the most biased tripe that I've ever read.

Any individual -- citizen or police officer -- placed in a position where he perceives a threat of death or great bodily injury to himself or others is allowed to use deadly force to stop that perceived threat.

In every instance cited in the series, law enforcement officers used the force necessary to end the perceived threat. The fact that Monday morning quarterbacking revealed that the threat might not have been what others perceived it to be is irrelevant.

Individuals act with the information they have. Perceived life and death situations do not allow someone to second-guess what another's motives may be.

As far as a follow-up investigation to a shooting, all one really needs to learn is: Was there a perceived threat? Did you stop that threat using the force you felt necessary?

Obviously, others may not perceive the threat the same way. Their thoughts on the matter are not germane.

A seven-minute interview of an individual involved in a shooting would answer all the basic questions. Further questioning and investigations usually only explore the mechanics of the situation for reconstruction purposes and provide conflicting views of what others perceived.

I wonder whether someone confronted by an individual who says "give me the cash or I'll blow you away" would be considered justified in shooting the individual if they did not see a gun. I, for one, would shoot that individual until the perceived threat was ended.

What would a reporter perceive if he saw me pull out a gun and shoot an individual who just appeared to be standing in front of me? In the cited instances in the articles, every police officer reported a perceived threat from an armed individual!

Harry O'Neal
It's one of the most fascist rationalizations of the abuse of authority and a disturbing justification of an unchecked and unaccountable use of deadly force that I have ever heard expressed.

Really, according to Mr. Harry O'Neal, if a kid holding a lollipop gets shot by a cop, the cop is in the clear as long as the cop perceived a threat from an armed individual. Does Mr. O'Neal not believe that police officers should be held to account for their actions precisely because they wield the badge and the weapons, and behave in the name of the people? Doesn't Mr. O'Neal believe that police are specifically trained not to shoot at people without verifying that the threat is real as opposed to simplying perceiving a threat in the recesses of his imagination?

Does Mr. O'Neal not understand the license he gives to officers when he says that all that matters is the cop's opinion on the subject and that the truth is irrelevant and secondary to the cop's opinion? I'd ask Mr. O'Neal two questions: (1) Does he think a cop can ever abuse his authority and kill another person without proper cause? (2) Does he know a cop who has killed another person who ever said that he didn't perceive a threat? I'd bet anything that the answer to the first question is "Yes" and the answer ot the second question is "No." But the irony is that in Mr. O'Neal's world, that combination of answers is impossible. It is impossible because Mr. O'Neal believes that a cop who kills because he claims simply that he perceived a threat always kills with proper cause. In fact, Mr. O'Neal argues that even if it is revealed post-facto that the perceived threat was not a real threat after all, that makes no difference. The truth is irrelevant. All that matters is what the cop perceived -- even if the cop "perceived" a kid holding a lollipop as a thug holding a gun.

I suspect Mr. O'Neal is blind to the fact that he is basically arguing that any cop who shoots another person in cold blood has to account to no one other than his own perception. I propose, however, that citizens who pay the salaries of their law enforcement officers have every right to question whether the perception of threat that a cop says led to his shooting a suspect is legitimate or not. I do not accept that just because the cop says so, then it must be so. If it were Mr. O'Neal's lollipop-holding son on the deadly end of an enounter with a delusional trigger-happy cop, he wouldn't be so disposed simply to accept that the killer of his son gets a pass just because he perceived a threat. It's folks like Mr. O'Neal who let men with guns give the middle finger to the rule of law.


Brian D said...

Police are supposed to be trained to escalate force to match equal force. An experienced negotiator might be able to de-escalate a potentially violent situation if the threat isn't impending. In actual practice, the police tend to escalate rapidly, and to exceed force in order to quickly dominate a subject -- it's all adrenaline and fear response. We've probably all seen this in Mardi Gras situations. It's how the police can retain control over large crowds. It's a totally different situation when guns or knives are drawn. The police have to respond quickly, and they're trained to fire without thinking, because hesitation for a split second has often proven deadly -- this isn't just speculation. Having said that, there is no excuse for the reported events if the veracity is to be believed. I know at least one of the guys named, and I can't believe what's been reported about him. As I've stated elsewhere, it's time for a federal takeover of the police department. Chief Riley has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of leadership, and has allowed highly questionable activities to occur under his command, allowing irreparable damage to confidence in the integrity of the department. In the serious allegations of unjustified killings after Katrina, Riley needs to open up the shop to scrutiny to put to rest any claims of wrongdoing, or to allow substantive findings to be prosecuted. The utter lack of any response whatsoever is such a complete failure of leadership, that Riley has to go -- now -- before a new mayor is sworn in.

Brian D said...

FYI, scenarios requiring the application of potentially deadly force:

andrew said...

Do you realize as a citizen of the state of Texas I am allowed, under our state constitution, the basic human right of self-defense to the extent that I can legally kill you with a hammer if you present the right grade of threat to me?

You can only properly assess the validity of a threat after it has come to pass. So do you assume, usually at great personal expense, that it is a bluff or do you take action to defend yourself based on the information you have at that moment?

Eric said...

The problem as I see it, if indeed we agree that individuals should be free to use lethal force to remove "a perceived threat of death or great bodily injury", is that you can't write a law (or enough laws) to adequately cover every possible scenario where such a threat might occur, so at some point you must allow the threatened person to assess the situation and make a decision.

Since we are relying on people's subjective perception of events to make these determinations, there sometimes is no objective way to determine if their stated perception was real or contrived. In order to protect ourselves from people who might commit murder while calling it self-defense we would have to (and in many cases do) structure laws so that certain objective qualifiers must be met in order for a 'self-defense' case to be claimed. The more qualifiers me make, the safer we are from people who would murder-while-calling-it-self-defense, but each law also makes us increasingly vulnerable to cases where real threats exist in absence of the necessary qualifiers.

So we have to make some decisions about how to deal with these problems, and ANY decision is going to create situations where there is some injustice. "Stand-Your-Ground" laws unqoivocally cause situations each year where a homeowner kills an intruder who would not have done them any harm, but those same laws also protect a number of people each year from having to retreat from invaders who would have pursued, captured, raped, and/or killed them. As far as I can tell, you can't prevent the one injustice without increasing the occurrence of the other.

So, when it comes to people defending themselves from percieved threats, I wouldn't go so far as to agree with Mr. O'Neal that any outside interpretations of said threat are "germane", but I would say that observing a proper right to self-defense requires a good amount of leeway in these types of matters, lest we start turning victims into criminals.

andrew said...

Eric: This is why I like you.

""Stand-Your-Ground" laws unqoivocally cause situations each year where a homeowner kills an intruder who would not have done them any harm"

This is the reason we have the one golden rule in Texas. You can not pursue and kill your "assailant" as in that case you are now the aggressor. We have a homeowner sitting in court getting charged with murder as a result. The victim of this case was out for a walk, jumped the wrong fence (thinking it was his) and got shot while trying to leave by what appears to be an all to eager to shoot homeowner. The homeowner dumped six rounds at the guys back, only hitting him twice.

Eric said...


I'm even skeptical of some of thosy types of laws, especially in cases of home invasion. Once somebody has entered my home and I have determined they are a threat, I'm not very comfortable with a law that says I can't pursue them if they run. Maybe they are running outside to get more bullets out of their car. Maybe they are running out to get their getaway driver to come back with them and give them a hand. Maybe they are running away from me, but looking (as they run) for one of my family members to grab as a hostage or a shield. A person who maliciously invades your home can justifiably be perceived as a threat to your safety as long as they are still in the area. They have already exhibited a severe enough lack of judgment that it might not be safe to just assume they are going to run away and leave you alone. In my opinion, unless there are extenuating circumstances, the law should give people leeway here too.

D-BB said...

We must remember that perception is more likely reality than not. As for the kid with the lollipop, what flavor was the lollipop? How old was this “child”? Would you seriously allow a 10 year old girl to lick a lollipop in public? Some parent!

Look, at my family reunion a few years back, my sentiments had laid with Jason (since I knew him longer then Freddy) while Aunt Agnes is a sleeve wearing fan of Freddy. I truly believe Jason is a better murderer than Freddy and the ending of “Freddy verses Jason” when Freddy cut off Jason's head and was walking with it in his hand and the camera panned to Jason's apparent lifeless eyes behind the hockey mask when all of a sudden they opened……then the scene goes to black, then to the credits. Freakin’ cinematic genius!!! It still brings a tear to my eye. Aunt Agnes and I got into it over this and she tried to have me forcibly removed from the reunion. So I shot the bitch. There is no doubt that if I hadn't, not only would I have been removed from the premises, she (and others) would have trashed Jason's name for the rest of the evening. Correct perception of harm? Remember what Gandhi said: “Peace is devine
but look through thy enemy’s eyes.”