It wasn’t until a conversation with my mother a few weeks ago that I realized just how passionately I feel about societal apathy towards “criminals” that are killed by police. I’m not talking about police killings that were in self-defense due to an imminent threat to other people’s lives. I mean killings that were unnecessary because there was no real danger to anyone. Minnesota has been in the national spotlight lately because of the police-involved shooting that led to Jamar Clark’s death. I won’t even get into the racial implications that have come out as a result, as that is it’s own debate in and of itself. My argument with my mom took a much different turn.
Good ol’ Mom said, “That piece of crap beat up his girlfriend and then wouldn’t let the paramedics help her. He deserved what he got. He shouldn’t have been getting in the way.” My brain broke. I’m pretty sure there was an audible snap. All of the hateful comments I’d seen online suddenly became my own mother. I was angry and I was ashamed. I hadn’t spoken out against other things I’d seen and heard, but suddenly I felt that I couldn’t stay silent anymore. So I got up on my soapbox and gave her the following heated response:
“He deserved to die??? See, that is what is so wrong with this society. How DARE you sit there and pass judgement on whether someone deserves to die or not? Especially when you don’t know the facts. You only know what the media is telling you so far, based on heresy. The investigation isn’t complete. We don’t know for sure. I heard he was cuffed when he was shot execution style. That doesn’t sound like he was interfering with anything if that turns out to be true. But that’s beside the point. You are sitting there rationalizing the killing a human being because he might have been a shitty human being. Let’s say it is true that he was arguing with the paramedics and being crazy. Someone that is behaving like that and has a history of abusing people most likely has a problem with mental illness. Doesn’t sound like he’s all there to me. So now we’re talking about someone who lives in a neighborhood that is known to be economically underprivileged who is likely mentally ill. What do you think the chances are that he got any sort of mental health assessment or diagnosis? And if he did, what do you think the chances are that he has consistent access to care or medication for his mental health? Slim to none. Wanna know how I know that? Because I work it every day. Because it is safe to say that at least 95% of the women who come through my halfway house come from similar backgrounds and have severe mental illness. And that’s a conservative estimate. So maybe this guy was flipping out. But is killing someone who may not have been able to control themselves the solution? No. It’s not. And the sad part is that it isn’t necessarily the cops who are doing the shooting that are to blame. It’s the system. The cops are doing what they’re trained to do. It’s a problem with society and the entire criminal justice system. It’s crap. I work in it and I think it’s crap. Cops are trained to shoot to kill if they are in a situation that requires the use of their firearm. Why? Is it really necessary? Obviously in some situations it will be. But do you know I watched a video of a guy in the UK threatening police? Running around the street, waving a machete around and going nuts saying he was going to kill people and screaming. He even went towards a police office a few times. Do you know what they did? They called in a special task force of officers with full body shields that looked like something out of ancient Rome and formed a circle around the guy. They moved in until he was in the center and they could disarm him and arrest him without hurting him or themselves. That guy would not be alive if that had happened in America. He’d be shot dead and lots of people would be saying, “He deserved what he got, he should have listened to police.” Later they found out that guy was severely mentally ill and in a mental health crisis when it happened. Those police officers saved his life if you really think about it. A change in the way that our criminal justice system thinks and is operated is what needs to happen to prevent guys like that from being killed by the police unnecessarily. The problem is bigger than one simple solution or one cause. There are fundamental, systematic issues with the way that this country and our law enforcement are run and the way we treat mental illness. So many changes are needed that it’s hard to know where to start. But I do know that nobody, for any reason, deserves to die. When we start to think like that it’s our humanity that we’re losing and we’re no better than any other killers out there anyways.”
Ben Cohen wrote a fantastic blog post for The Daily Beast about the extreme measures that American police officers take when there is a perceived threat versus how other police forces handle similar threats. It includes the video of the guy with the machete. Definitely worth checking out if any of what I said resonated with you or piqued your interest.