Who could forget what happened to 13-year-old Andy Lopez? The teenager was shot seven times and killed after two sheriff’s deputies, a mere 20 feet away, saw him carrying a toy BB gun in public.
Then there was the time two Cleveland police officers mistook the sounds of a backfiring car for gunfire and immediately began pursuing the car and its two occupants. Within 20 minutes, more than 60 police cars, some unmarked, and 115 officers had joined the pursuit, which ended in a middle school parking lot with more than 140 bullets fired by police in less than 30 seconds. The “suspects”—dead from countless bullet wounds—were unarmed.
Miriam Carey’s family still can’t get past the shock of her death. Police in Washington, DC shot and killed the 34-year-old woman after she collided with a barrier leading to the White House, then fled when pursued by a phalanx of gun-wielding police and cop cars. Carey’s 1-year-old daughter was in the backseat. Seventeen gun shots later, Carey was dead, and her toddler motherless.
Just as troubling as this “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset is what investigative journalist Katie Rucke uncovered about how police are being trained to use force without hesitation and report their shootings in such a way as to legally justify a shot. Rucke reports the findings of one concerned citizen, “Jack,” who went undercover in order to attend 24 hours of law enforcement training classes organized by the private, for-profit law enforcement training organization Calibre Press.
“Jack says it was troubling to witness hundreds of SWAT team officers and supervisors who seemed unfazed by being instructed to not hesitate when it comes to using excessive, and even deadly, force,” writes Rucke. “‘From my personal experience, these trainers consistently promote more aggression and criticize hesitation to use force,’ Jack said. ‘They argue that the risk of making a mistake is worth it to absolutely minimize risk to the officer. And they teach officers how to use the law to minimize legal repercussions in almost any scenario. All this is, of course, done behind the scenes, with no oversight from police administrators, much less the public.’”
According to the learning materials … there isn’t time for logic and analysis, encouraging officers to fire multiple rounds at subjects because “two shots rarely stops ‘em,” and outlines seven reasons why “excessive use of force” is a myth. Other lessons Jack learned from the “Anatomy of Force Incidents” training in January include a need to over-analyze one’s environment for deadly threats by using one’s imagination to create “targets of the day” who could be “reasonably” shot, to view racial profiling as a legitimate policing technique, even if the person is a child, pregnant woman or elderly person, and to use the law to one’s advantage to avoid culpability.
What we’re dealing with is what author Kristian Williams describes as the dual myths of heroism and danger: “The overblown image of police heroism, and the ‘obsession’ with officer safety, do not only serve to justify police violence after the fact; by providing such justification, they legitimize violence, and thus make it more likely.”
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