Posted in Rants on April 19th, 2015 by Ed

One of John Mulaney's best bits is about the New York Post, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of American journalism. In it he describes the paper's unique argot, with references to "tots" and "pervs" and "bozos" and other terminology befitting a low-brow rag best suited to lining cat litter boxes. He parodies their usage of "hero" to describe "any man who does his job."

It was hard not to think immediately of this description when I saw this video of a police officer (via body camera, by the way) with his gun drawn engaging a murder suspect dispatchers described as armed without resorting to deadly force. Google this incident and you'll find thousands of hits describing the video as "heroic" or even "inspirational", setting a "great example" of how encounters between police and suspects can end without one of the parties involved dying. Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus. Even very liberal sites have covered the story using language like, "officer demonstrates how to avoid using deadly force" as though that is the natural and expected outcome, a force beyond his control against which he must do battle.

How bad have things gotten with law enforcement in this country? Bad enough that we're applauding a police officer for not killing a suspect. He saved this suspect's life! By not shooting him when the latter appeared dangerous. This is now a thing that stands out and needs to be praised so that others might follow this example. The shoot-first culture is now so thoroughly entrenched that nobody seems to remember that what you see in this video is, in the most literal sense, exactly what the police are paid to do. In most departments one might imagine that officers who aren't strictly limited to desk work end up feeling threatened or feeling like they are in danger somewhere between occasionally and constantly. The idea that "feeling threatened" is a carte blanche justification for using lethal force has become so popular that we hardly notice the body count it is racking up. It has become a classic Can vs. Should problem, the logical fallacy that the conceptual right to use lethal force somehow implies that it should or even must be used. Whenever the amateur Cop Apologists note that being a cop is a dangerous job – which it is, although nowhere near the most dangerous – I have to explain to another adult human being that part of what the police are paid to do is not take the bait from every person they encounter who acts suspiciously or aggressively toward them.

Paradoxically, the reaction to a situation that had (in the larger sense) a "happy" ending is more disturbing than watching people react to the now familiar "Cop guns down suspect" story. Cops killing people, and the social and legal framework in place to protect them when they do so, not only fails to surprise us anymore but is now the expected outcome. And we are just scratching the surface of the consequences of that change.