SPRAY AND PRAY

Posted in Rants on August 27th, 2012 by Ed

So, funny story: it turns out that the mass shooting outside the Empire State Building late last week was actually one guy shooting his co-worker and nine people being wounded by police bullets while they shot at the assailant. In what can only be seen as an unprecedented show of restraint on the part of the NYPD, the two responding officers only fired sixteen rounds. Some of them even hit the intended target.

We can assume that this sorry total would have been larger and more appropriate had more officers been present to join in the contagious shooting. Still, sixteen rounds for two cops isn't half bad. When you're pulling the trigger that rapidly, who has time to aim?

Living as we do in a society filled with classic authoritarian-follower personality types it does not take long for the full time Cop Apologists to make their voices heard in the few instances in which police shootings actually get heavy news coverage. It is unavoidable; every news segment, every internet forum, and every casual hey-did-ya-hear conversation will include the same stock quotes brought up like clockwork. So let us go ahead and address them up front.

Yes, police have to respond to things under pressure. Yes, they had every right and reason to have their weapons drawn at an armed man who had just killed someone. No, I wasn't there. Are we done? Good.

We as a society create and pay the police to respond to these situations better than you or I would. The arguments about fear and pressure and "If that was you, I doubt you would have done any better" are specious precisely because those things are true. We have police for the same reason that airlines pay a pilot rather than soliciting a volunteer from coach to fly the plane. The police are supposed to respond appropriately, not in fear, panic, and ineptitude like untrained citizens would. If the police can't deal with a suspect without beating him or work a shift without taking a bribe or draw their weapon and use it appropriately, then they aren't really law enforcement. They're just a bunch of regular-guy assholes with a license to shoot at you or otherwise ruin your day. Yes, if there was a situation in which I was responsible for stopping an armed killer I would probably pull out my gun and pull the trigger until it was empty, hitting basically nothing. That's why it's a pretty goddamn good thing that I'm not entrusted with that responsibility. Or a gun.

If New York or any other city has armed officers on the street who can't do any better than Spray & Pray, even the most ardent NRA-loving, authority worshiping people among us must find that unacceptable. Right? Is there some sort of right wing paranoid argument in favor of police being lousy shots that I'm missing? If we can't do anything about police being increasingly militarized and increasingly reliant on force (which, again, appears to have been well justified in this situation) we can at least insist that they hit what they're shooting at.

Oh, and on the subject of militarization, this is a great example of why police are meant to use standard police calibers rather than the military-style "MOAR POWER!" rounds they've been gravitating toward in recent years. If a bullet misses and strikes a bystander or hits the pavement, shatters, and then strikes several bystanders, pistol-type rounds are used to reduce the odds that those unintended injuries will be fatal. Imagine the body count if these had been among the frightening number of NYPD units with .223 rifles or other quasi-military weapons designed to penetrate walls and kill people on the other side.