Contrary to what many in the general population believe, a police officer’s decision of if and when to use force is not in any way clear-cut, easy or definitive, and it’s nothing—nothing—like you see on television and in movies. And contrary to what many pundits will say, the overwhelming majority of police officers avoid using deadly force at almost any cost.
Case in Point
Watch the video attached here of a Baltimore County police officer shooting a 19-year-old male subject named Keith Harrison McLeod in what appears to be a parking lot or an alley.
Witnesses at the scene told detectives that the officer was pleading with McLeod to stop. “The suspect on the other hand, according to witnesses and others, repeatedly use profanities, screamed and yelled at the officer, ‘I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you’,” according to reports, all while moving towards the officer in a bladed stance with his hands behind his back.
“My police officer had one second to make a life or death decision,” said Chief James Johnson. Now put yourself in this police officer’s position.
Where was his primary focus? What was his thought process? How many things was he actually thinking about? What was he looking at? How wide was his field of vision? Did he see the peripheral scene at all? Was he able to hear the exact words being shouted at him as he desperately tried to identify what was in the subject’s right hand? All of this while attempting to protect the innocent bystanders watching on.
Now realize as all this was happening he also needed to consider the myriad rules, regulations, laws and policies that govern the different force-level options.
If he makes the wrong decision he knows he may wind up in jail.
If he makes the wrong decision he or someone else might die.
The stress level he is experiencing is beyond anything anyone watching this scene on a computer screen can even fathom. And how much time does he have to actually make the decision to pull that trigger?
About 4/10s of a second. Faster than I can type the period at the end of this sentence.
Legally, this is a good shoot. No doubt about it.
Still, some will—from a paradigm of ignorance and self-righteousness—portray this officer as a mindless thug and ruthless killer.
Even the headline of the Washington Post—a respected establishment media outlet—describes the shooting with this headline: “Unarmed D.C. drug suspect killed by Baltimore County officer.” Makes it sound pretty clean and one-sided, doesn’t it? At what point was it clear to the officer involved that McLeod was “unarmed,” when he was clearly presenting himself as otherwise?
(The Washington Post and Guardian databases of police killings will still categorize this as yet another incident of police officers shooting an “unarmed” subject.)
Now imagine there is no video to this incident. Then what?
What would the headline be? I can tell you: “White Baltimore officer shoots unarmed black teen.” That would sell a few papers, wouldn’t it? Stoke some emotions? Fit some narratives?
Everyone, in particular the police of this nation, needs to examine incidents such as this and then work at educating the public about the reality of violence. How can we, as a country, expect to quell violence if we won’t even face up to its reality?