As anyone who has been following the news is already aware, this hasn't been a particularly good fortnight for America's law enforcers. Whether they're tasering Arab college kids, firing off 50 rounds at an unarmed wedding party, or popping a cap in an 88 year old woman in her home, there has been plenty of reason to discuss issues of police and the use of force recently.
Unfortunately, such discussions inevitably end up being reduced to "Look, police officers have a stressful, dangerous job. They have to make snap decisions and it's too easy to second-guess." This is, of course, the conclusion of the argument for those who defend the police in these instances. There's a certain logic to that, I admit. It really is a dangerous, stressful job. No one can dispute that. The logical leap I fail to make, however, is that stressful employment = carte blanche for inappropriate conduct.
While being a cop is certainly hazardous, it's not even close to the most dangerous job in the United States. Not even in the top 10, as a matter of fact. According to the Department of Labor, the 10 jobs in which one is most likely to be killed in the line of work are (fatalities per 100,000 hrs. of work) working on a fishing boat or in the timber industry. Regarding injuries (non-fatal), law enforcement isn't even in the top 25 – being a steel worker seems to offer the highest odds of injury.
Furthermore, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund there are an average of about 160 law enforcement deaths annually. Is 160 dead police officers a lot? Yes, it is. That's a lot of violence. 160 deaths means that there are approximately 18.2 fatalities per 100,000 hours worked. It indicates that being a law enforcement officer is indeed a dangerous job.
But there are a lot of dangerous jobs. "Police officer" is neither the only one nor the most dangerous. Therefore it makes no sense (here in the reality-based community) that police officers' conduct, when inappropriate, can be justified by the hazards of the job. If a lumberjack or electrician beats the crap out of an unarmed person in the street, does anyone say "Well, they have a very dangerous and stressful job" as an excuse? Well why the hell not? Their jobs are statistically about 500% more dangerous than being a cop.
This isn't really about whether or not police were or were not guilty of using excessive force in any of the recent cases. That's for the courts to decide (*snicker*). The officers involved have already faced discipline – paid administrative leave (the rest of us call that "vacation"). I'm sure the legal system will investigate itself and reassuringly inform us that it found no evidence of wrongdoing. While there's nothing that we can do as individuals to change the attitudes and behavior of people in law enforcement, I think we're all more than capable of contributing to the fight against piss-poor logic and lame excuses.