By Wayne William Cipriano
Once again last night for the fourth of fifth time in as many months I saw what any judicious viewer would say was a murder on television. This was not a dramatic series or a movie; it was the national news. This time the killer was a policewoman. After using a taser on her victim, she shot and killed him.
As I watched via the technology of a body camera mounted on the front of her uniform, the policewoman tased the fellow who was on the ground lying on his right side and then on his stomach. I think they said he had received four jolts of the high-voltage device. I heard her order him to show his hands, fearing I imagine, that he had a firearm secreted somewhere on his body since a knife, bludgeon, etc. would constitute no immediate threat to an officer standing several feet from a prone person.
Perhaps the officer forgot how fractured one’s nervous system becomes after one taser shock (the reason they were developed and employed) let alone three or four such applications.
Perhaps she did not consider that a prone position would make it extremely difficult for the guy to even withdraw a firearm from hiding let alone aim it at her and place her in lethal danger before she, standing above him with her service weapon drawn, could neutralize such a threat.
Perhaps she forgot all the other devices she carried such as mace, baton, etc. that could be used to subdue and control the person she ultimately killed.
Whatever she was thinking or hoping, the inability or disinclination of the victim to show his hands somehow convinced her that her next appropriate action was to shoot the guy in the back as he lay at her feet. Not once, but twice.
Afterward, as I understand it, the policewoman reported she attempted CPR to save the life of the person she just killed. The also reported the victim had drugs including alcohol on his system and had no weapons.
So, he consumed some drugs, was tased three or four times, possibly to the point that he was unable to move his hands purposefully, did not comply with her orders, was shot in the back while lying on the ground, and was killed.
Who can tell what story we would have heard had not a body camera been in use. Who can tell how many murders by police officials are perpetrated when no witnesses, with or without recording devices, are present to record the facts.
My cousin Billy never tires of reminding me that we live in a country of 320 million fellow citizens and just about anything I can think of is happening right now. And so I should not “overreact” when we see relatively innocent victims murdered by people to whom we give badges, arrest power, guns, and the authority to use those forces under the protection of the law. We see such things, Billy says, due to the ever present media’s thirst for the sensational and such murders are really so statistically infrequent.
Overreact? Avoid being upset when undertrained, terrified police officers murder persons on the national news over and over again? Or maybe reserve my anger and frustration for a judicial system that absolves these police persons from any criminal repercussions because, according to them, they feared for their lives?
We hope these representatives of a system that seems to prefer the deaths of possible offenders over the vague potential of damage to enforcement personnel, or even favor such deaths over the escape of persons convicted of nothing at all, to be in the distinct minority. But what is going on that such behavior exists on the part of people we entrust with the authority to kill in the process of protecting life? And when a murder does take place in full view of all of us, and no legal consequences fall to the murderer, what message are we sending to other potential murderers?
What is the purpose of body cameras? Surely not just to show us how inept we are at choosing those we select to protect us and to whom we give such almost unlimited power.
What is the next step in this terrible game when it is committed by those we as a society provide with so much power and authority? Is the next step the arming of all of us and allowing us to kill whomever we please on the flimsiest of excuses:
The guy knocked on my door and “looked like he would hurt me” so I killed him.
The gal “screamed so loudly at me and I thought she would attack me next” so I killed her.
They “would not stop threatening me” and I was “in fear of my life” so I killed them.
“I didn’t know what that person would do next” so I killed him.
These reasons seem to be accepted when murderers occupying official status kill, would they serve to the same for the rest of us?
My Dad once told me that self-defense, the application of potentially lethal force to protect yourself from a credible threat of physical violence was justified when every other possible response had been exhausted, when you had backed up as far as you could, when you found yourself with your back against a wall with no viable avenue of retreat or escape, when there were no other options. Things have really changed since then, haven’t they?
What limits do we set? What responsibility do we enforce, upon what oversight do we insist upon those who are evidently allowed by us to commit murder in the pursuance of their everyday duties?
Sure, we all want to be protected, directly and indirectly, from the extreme violence and death that seems so prevalent today. But in exchange for that protection are we willing to excuse those who commit murder when it might have been appropriate, when a situation have developed into one of extreme danger? Are we willing to condone murder to nip such potential danger in the bud?
If we are willing to condone such behavior on the part of our protectors, why cannot we “protect” ourselves in the same way, badges or not?