Opinion

How to Get Away With Murder: An American Police Story

Justice is sometimes hard to define, but injustice isn’t hard to recognize.  In Michael Brown’s case, the injustice was clear as day.  Regardless of his size, face, skin color, criminal record, or even whether or not he lunged at a police officer, death was not the appropriate punishment.  In this country, the right to life isn’t contingent on a set of rules, let alone behavior.

Following that logic, many of the disputed facts of this case aren’t really important: the fact that Brown was said to have pilfered cigarillos at the local convenience store, whether or not Brown approached Wilson in his car.  Even the debated ballistics which either showed Brown running from Wilson, or that Brown was on his knees, presumably in surrender, for the final five fatal rounds (nytimes.com).  None of these things should truly matter in this case.  Police are not tasked with execution, and with all the training they have, it should be unacceptable to take the life of a man who possessed little threat beyond what he could exert with his body.

The aftermath of this case is perhaps a greater indicator than the unclear facts of the shooting. After the fatal incident, the body of Michael Brown was left in the streets for four hours. A report was not filed until long afterwards, and the Ferguson Police waited nearly a week to name Wilson as the officer involved in the case (cnn.com).

It took eight witnesses and 100 days to come to the wrong conclusion on this case. Wrong, but predictable.  How many more days, how many more witnesses, how many more Trayvon Martins and Michael Browns will it take for this country to connect the dots?

In 2012, a security officer killed an African American man every 28 hours (occupy.com).

Michael Brown lived to see the injustice of the Trayvon Martin case and then had his fate dealt out the same way.  Tamir Rice lived to see both of these tragedies. Joined by these three are countless other victims who did not rise to national scrutiny.

Most recently,  Rice was shot twice while swinging in a playground, eventually passing away in the hospital after having lived a full life of twelve years.  The excuse offered this time was the brandishing of a toy gun−which, had it been real, is not actually a crime, but a right!  The court is still out on this one, but hopefully a state above the Mason-Dixon line will be able to follow clear logic this time.

A court in the 32 states that have the death penalty would not issue such a sentence for stealing cigarillos, carrying a gun, being under the influence of an illegal substance, or looking suspicious while roaming the street.  In fact, in past years, the use of the death penalty has been declining, mostly because there are very few cases in which it is appropriate to deprive someone of his or her life.

In most places, police are trained with the goal of protecting their community. Guns are meant to be used sparingly, and always with the aim of temporarily removing a threat, which can be done without fatal fire.  Maybe if officers took a version of the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm,” as doctors do, these guidelines would be better followed.

In this past year, there were a total of 409 deaths by police shootings in this country, as compared to three in Germany and zero in the rest of world’s industrial democracies (economist.com).  The police’s ridiculous on-the-spot decisions make a mockery of the justice system.

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