We’ve all seen this movie before. Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman in Florida. Rodney King in Los Angeles. An isolated incident is amplified in the media — before any judicial proceedings gets started — to ensure that tensions are whipped up in the public and the community’s reputation gets thoroughly trashed. When all is said and done, the media will move on and local folks will be left to clean up the media-inspired mess.
Good cops. Bad cops. Many of my libertarian cohorts are really eager to jump on the police in cases like this. I am by no means a wide-eyed apologist for the police. While I was part of the drive-by media, I did some investigative work that inspired the feds to put a sheriff and one-third of his department in prison. During that time, I also met plenty of good cops — the overwhelming majority I met, as a matter of fact — who are / were motivated by a sense of doing good and protecting the public.
Policing is a tough job. The hours are crazy — extremely tough for officers with families at home. You go to work every day realizing that there is a good chance you might not ever come back home. You are required to charge right into potentially dangerous situations with your potential options for responding drastically curtailed by lawyers and bureaucrats. In 1997, a North Carolina trooper and a Cumberland County deputy sheriff were ambushed and murdered during a simple, run-of-the-mill traffic stop. In 2013, a North Carolina trooper was shot in the face while conducting a traffic stop and license check on a speeding suspect.
Tensions are often high when on-duty officers encounter the public. Officers have incidents like the aforementioned in mind. Civilians may be nervous about being in the presence of someone who (1) is armed, and (2) able to put you in jail.
I have a friend, recently retired from law enforcement, who is still haunted by a two decade old shooting incident. My friend was part of a night-time raid on a drug stash house. He chased one suspect who ran from the house and into adjacent woods. My friend said he could tell the suspect had something in his hand — possibly a gun. It was too dark to tell for sure. My friend shouted at the suspect to (1) Stop, (2) drop what he had in his hands, (3) raise his hands in the air, and (4) turn to face him. The suspect — a black male — turned around quickly with his arm extended toward my friend and some kind of object in his hands.
“I had a split second to make a life-or-death decision,” said my friend. “He didn’t follow directions. He had something, possibly a gun, in his hands. It was either him or me. I thought about my family at home — and decided it was going to be HIM.”
My friend shot the suspect, and he went down. My friend approached the downed suspect and secured him. With the aid of a flashlight, my friend determined the object in the suspect’s hand was a bong — not a gun. The incident was played up in the media as the shooting of an unarmed black man. (Never mind he was fleeing a police raid at a drug stash house and refusing to follow an officer’s very reasonable instructions.)
My friend’s name was bounced around the media. He was investigated — and cleared — by Internal Affairs and the state police. That didn’t stop the usual suspects — black ministers, radical leftists and assorted race pimps — from demonizing my friend in public and basically inciting ‘payback’ against my friend and his family.
Shootings of black suspects by white people are rare. It is, unfortunately, way too common to have black people shooting other black people in poor, urban communities. Yet, the media and the race pimps don’t find that particular tragedy all that sexy.
An objective investigation of the shooting incident involving my friend found it was simply a tragic mistake. The media — and the rabble rousers in the street — ignored that and painted my friend as a racist murderer. The media and the race pimps moved on after a while. The reputations of my friend, his department and his then-community were left critically damaged in the wake of that media circus. Ratings were achieved. Papers were sold. No good came of any of it.
NO EXCUSE FOR RIOTING. Believe it or not, folks. The media gets stuff wrong. Remember how the Trayvon Martin story was initially portrayed as a white man viciously shooting an unarmed black teenager? Only during the trial did we hear about the Mexican-American defendant shooting the black teenager in response to his head being bashed against the sidewalk repeatedly. We’ve got a pretty good process laid out in our Constitution — even if it has been somewhat bastardized by corrupt politicians and sleazy lawyers. Let the judicial system work through the facts FIRST. Acting on emotions — based on partial details passed on by a biased media and third-hand sources — is a recipe for trouble and a threat to our free society.
There is no excuse for taking to the streets to vandalize and loot private property. In Missouri, I think we have criminals and other radical troublemakers taking advantage of a prime opportunity. Smashing and grabbing at a convenience store — owned and operated by people who had ZERO to do with the officer-involved shooting — is beyond lawful protest and closer to serious criminality.
Sending a SWAT team to arrest someone for child support delinquency is an example of police overkill. Using tear gas and armored vehicles to turn back mobs trying to sack the city IS NOT.
Proportional response is the key. Burning down the city over an incident you heard about third or fourth hand is unacceptable. (In fact, I can’t think of any good reasons for burning the city down.) If you are expecting law enforcement officers to offer a reasonable, proportional response to incidents, those of us in the general public need to do the same. Chris Rock has an excellent video primer on that point.