While a number of the recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police covered in the news have in fact been illegitimate, or at least questionable, and the calls for accountability are very justified, some are showing signs of foaming at the mouth. I recently discovered one such group, Mothers Against Police Brutality, who painted a tragic but legitimate use of police force in Dallas as illegitimate, and contrary to their stated mission, are increasing the probability of unnecessary deadly force encounters between police and citizens.
See the video from one of officer’s body cameras here.
Loving Eyes Can Never See
As a parent, I understand that nothing could be more painful than to have your child killed by the actions of another, and I understand the desperate need to believe that your child is good. I do not blame parents for getting angry with officers who hurt their children, even when their child was responsible for the escalation. It is the very nature of a parent to protect their children above all else. And at least in the beginning, it is natural to assume that their child had valid reasons for their actions, and to mourn the loss of their child’s potential to become the person they hoped they might be someday. The problem is when those left behind continue to allow their love for their lost child to blind them to the truth long after their death.
Sometimes Life or Death Choices are Death or Death Choices
On June 14 of 2014 Dallas police officers John Rogers and Andrew Hutchins shot and killed Jason Harrison, a mentally ill black man, when Harrison lunged at one of the officers at very close range with a screwdriver. The wording on MAPB’s website clearly places 100% of the blame on the officers, and paints them as cold-blooded murders. The truth of the matter is that the shooting death of Harrison was a tragedy, and the officers handled it as close to ideally as could be expected of human beings. Mentally ill or not, Harrison forced the officers into the position of deciding in a split-second whether to shoot Harrison, or allow Harrison to continue his charge towards them with a screwdriver in hand, possibly inflicting serious bodily injury or death upon them. Under the circumstances, the officers could only choose who died, not if they died.
Tasers are NOT Appropriate for Sudden Deadly Force Situations
MAPB and many news stories covering the shooting emphasize how quickly the officers shot Harris after his appearance in the doorway, as if that was evidence of their callousness, and many suggested that the officers should have used a Taser to subdue Harrison. In reality, The speed at which the incident unfolded is exactly the reason that non-leathal options like a Taser were not a realistic option in that situation. While it is true that had one of the officers had immediately drawn their Taser and successfully shot Harrison with both probes, Harrison’s story might have ended much better. However, had the officer fired and missed with one of the two probes needed to incapacitate him, they would have been completely vulnerable to a deadly stabbing attack by Harrison. Had Harrison stayed in the doorway for a while longer, or retreated into the house, the officers might have managed to get past the immediate adrenaline dump, and coordinated an effort to have one officer use their Taser, while the other maintained deadly force coverage with their handgun, in case the Taser failed to incapacitate Harrison.
The Officers Wanted Video of the Shooting
Contrary to MAPB’s description of the video, not only were the officers who shot Harrison justified in inflicting the injuries which ended Harrison’s life, they can be heard in the video clearly talking about their awareness and relief that one officer’s body cam recorded the incident. Why? Because they were acting in good conscience and didn’t want to harm anyone, but probably understood that without that video, no matter how justified his actions were, they would no doubt be painted as just another cracker cop executing innocent black men for shits and giggles.
Harrison’s Death was NOT a Failure of Police Tactics or Training
While MAPB decried the incident as “Murder” and an “unnecessary, preventable homicide,” the only way it could have been prevented was to not involve the police, or for the police to treat Harrision as a significant threat from the outset. Since I don’t know the history of Harrison’s interactions with DPD, I don’t know if they would have had any reason to believe him to be a serious threat. If they did, then it is possible that the officers may have been too complacent in their approach, but unless they ordered Harrison out of the house over the phone or PA system, they couldn’t have maintained a safer distance, and had they taken such precautions, the response would most likely have been decried as embarrassing to the Harrison family, and as needlessly stigmatizing the mentally ill.
Basically, Harrison threw feces at the fan, and the officers did the only thing they could do to avoid getting hit by it.
What do you think? Was there something wrong with how the officers handled the confrontation? What would you have done in their place? How can we use this incident to prevent future incidents?