Loss of Innocents: The Politics of Fear and the Use of Deadly Force

Observing events of the past week, and in a quandary over the number of gunshots used in many of the police motivated killings, I wonder about over-the-top use of force in these cases.  Any officer, especially those given the responsibility of carrying guns, should be emotionally mature, competent, and trained in non-lethal methods of engagement, as a priority.  Even when a first bullet might be motivated by the expectation of lethal force, what can be the motivation for a second, third, fourth, and fifth?

In the cases of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, these were innocent victims, victims who cooperated with police to their demise.  What does this teach a wary public when there is no accountability, and how does this benefit the men and women in blue who use reason and apply caution in their handling of dangerous situations?  We are all put in danger.  Fear and loathing turn the ethos of “serve and protect” into a farce and make a good police officer’s job even harder, with hair-trigger reactions on all sides.

What must be done to move our system toward sustainable and positive outcomes in these situations can only be done through police training and education where prejudice and ignorance have no place.  The harm has already been done when we place guns in the hands of police officers who do not know how to apply respect and compassion with listening skills.  We do not have a problem with “super-predators” in our black communities any more so than in our white communities and our institutions, institutions that marginalize the powerless and create desperate men and women on all sides … men and women who will do what they think necessary, having few options, out of fear, to do what is right.

The shootings of Delrawn Small, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile this past week by police, and those of police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Sergeant Michael Smith, Sr CPL Lorne Ahrens  in Dallas, who were protecting and serving community members in a peaceful protest, prove this point.  Observe the politics of fear in the use of deadly force where fear and loathing beget violence, and violence begets more violence, a very old story.  Three innocent black men were shot dead by police, police who are now on paid leave or at a desk job (none are in jail); while the black man, Micah Xavier Johnson, who shot police is dead – killed by a bomb, no less.  All of these killings were the product of fear and loathing, a failure in our culture to deal with the heart of injustice.

What can be done to change this pattern of violence in America today?  Certainly not more violence; because violence comes in many guises – not the least of which is social.  The culture needs to change.  Rather than a militarized police force with additional “troops” and equipment, perhaps institutional evolution motivated by kindness and truth … since the first thing sacrificed in these deadly encounters is compassion; and in the aftermath, truth.

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