Is It Easier Than We Think To End Deadly Use Of Force?
Updated: Jun 23
We met up with a former public school teacher, who relayed his experience working with kids. The conversation went as follows:
I expected to encounter misbehavior - innocuous, intentional, or otherwise. In our follow-up conversations, students often admitted to feeling isolated or called out by authority figures. I had a close relationship with my students, so I could get away with a half-joking and half-serious response. “Here is my challenge for you,” I would say. “Listen when it is time to listen, talk when it is time to talk, work when it is time to work, and make an effort to enjoy yourself in class at all times.” I would give the student time to process that statement. “I challenge you to intentionally do those things for the rest of the week, in my class or in any other period, and then on Friday you can tell me if you’re still feeling called out by the teachers.” I waited the requisite week and stopped hearing complaints.
Why begin with this anecdote? Because the issue of encounters with authority and the role of choice play an identical role in society for adults. Our solution for deadly use of force is simple: Stop committing crimes, and stop disobeying legal orders. We will back that up with context.
In 2019, according to the left-leaning Washington Post database, there were 1,001 individuals killed by police. A different site, an even further left-leaning database called Mapping Police Violence, there were 1,098 individuals killed by police. Both sets of figures estimate about 25% of those killed by police were black and another approximately 37% were white. (And no, a disproportionality in deaths does not preclude racism; it simply reflects rate of offending and concomitant police intervention).
Presumably, each of the 250 black victims or 370 white victims have families that expressed concern over the nature of their deaths and will always question whether police acted appropriately. This is true for every family, not just those that receive national attention and recognition.
In grief of that magnitude, it is usually easier to place external blame on the factors leading up to the death. Why did the police engage in the first place? Why did police escalate the situation? Why couldn’t the police use non-lethal force? Why did they have to shoot to kill? These are also the questions put forward by celebrity attorneys and most news journalists activists.
This article fully recognizes the ostensible reality that not all police killings are justified. In those cases, police have been brought before their peers and been convicted of a crime. While not perfect, the system is designed to protect the rights of everyone. More changes are coming as a result of the death of George Floyd. This is a good thing.
However, historical precedent, common sense, and statistics portray a general rule to the nature of the killings. As far as historical precedent, there have always been violent criminals; it is especially not a new phenomenon due to White Privilege (didn’t I just point out more whites are killed by police than blacks?). In terms of common sense, there will always be people looking for an easy way out, people who shirk personal responsibility, or just don’t care about the consequences. And finally, despite every gain in modern society, from increased mental health awareness and social safety nets to improved training of police officers themselves, there have always been police shootings.
Unless things change, this will always be the norm, not the rule. Police will continue to kill criminal suspects, and when a white officer kills a black officer, that will spark self-righteous indignation and place blame on every factor except the victim himself. Most recently, this mindset resulted in the mass burning and looting of cities, as well as deaths, let alone serious injuries, of an untold additional number of people, police and innocent civilians included.
How does this change? How can we eliminate most, if not all, use-of-force deaths? I have two proposals, and amazingly the radical ACLU has offered similar suggestions. For the record, this is the same ACLU that claims “black people are being murdered and brutalized by police with near impunity.” It is safe to say the ACLU lies with more impunity than is the nature of blacks being killed by police.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police get involved with suspects in one of three ways: police-initiated contact (44%), resident-initiated contact (44%), or traffic accidents (12%). The number one reason police initiate contact with the public is traffic violations and the number one reason residents initiate contact is to report a possible crime. It is safe to say that if these two factors are addressed and most contact is eliminated, then deadly interactions would also decline significantly. How could it not?
It is estimated that police pull over about 20 million drivers each year. They are pulled over for a variety of reasons, but mostly as a result of factors within their control. Consider: A full 40% of all traffic stops occur after a driver is caught speeding. There’s more. An additional 14% of stops result from a driver not practicing safe and legal maneuvers through a red light, stop sign, lane change, or proper signaling. Vehicle defects, which the driver chooses to address or not, account for another 12%. This includes broken lights or other safety hazards presented in a physical condition. Finally, drivers could stop a further 10% of all stops if they maintained proper license plates (classified as record checks), and by extension had no reason to be considered for a legal stop. All told, the top five reasons alone, of which the driver has full authority and responsibility to correct, account for over 75% of all traffic stop causes.
We don’t put a lot of faith in people, so let’s assume that these numbers stay the same. There are always individuals who feel like they are justified in speeding, driving haphazardly, and or are somehow above the law. What do you do when you’re pulled over?
There is no shortage of resources available, but a great training course was put together by a collaboration of law enforce agencies in Florida. They outlined three very simple and straightforward driver actions to abide by during all traffic stops.
“[S]tay in your car until you receive further instructions from the officer. Keep your hands on your steering wheel and in the officer’s view at all times, so the officer feels safe.”
“If your documents are out of reach, let the officer know where they are before you reach for them. Also, please inform the officer if you have a weapon in the vehicle so he or she is aware.”
“Most importantly, the officer and the citizen should be courteous and cooperative with each other, building mutual respect and leading to a better dialogue between all involved.”
Recall the heinous ACLU banner stating blacks are being killed with impunity. Despite a very provocative public statement, buried in the website even they suggest: “Stay calm. Don’t run, resist, or obstruct the officers. Do not lie or give false documents. Keep your hands where the police can see them.”
Imagine the difference in outcome if all suspects abided by these simple suggestions and complied with police. Would police killings go up or down if citizens respected the rule of law, or, once they were involved with police, followed legal orders?
We have imagined a scenario where drivers take responsibility to 1) prevent the traffic stop, or 2) to allow for the traffic stop to end peacefully. The other half of police engagements occur when a resident initiates the contact, usually to communicate a possible crime. Smart but intellectually vapid people like to consider every possibility when it comes to crime, from the reasonable (economic theory) to the absurd (Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory). No matter the potential motivating factor, there is an easy and immediate solution to the problem of resident-initiated police contact. Stop committing crimes. If all criminal activity ceased tomorrow, so too would lethal use-of-force, it is amazing but not surprising that morality is never factored in.
On this last point, we believe a return to strong moral development, which historically has been delivered through religious instruction, would ameliorate much of the issue of crime. However, we maintain our assertion that history provides the best outlook on this; there always have been and always will be criminals. That is the spectrum of human nature.
Of course, for obvious and aforementioned reasons, crime will not stop. What then? As with traffic stops, the best recourse for a peaceful interaction is open communication and mutual respect. We defer to the ACLU once more for clarity (my emphasis italicized. “If being arrested: Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair. Follow the officers’ commands.”
It will do only to point out the obvious for the most obtuse or denial-prone readers. Even the far-left, race-hustling ACLU acknowledges and recommends that arrest not be resisted. Why? Because police aren’t mind readers and will act in a way necessary to keep themselves, their partners, or the public safe. You have your own rights, but those are theirs.
We close with a return to the classroom admonition. As a teacher, safe consequences were employed. You talk in class, and you get a sidebar with me after dismissal; you get in a fight, at worst it is a suspension. But it doesn’t work that way forever. As we have seen, there are deadly outcomes. What if we modified the script? “I challenge you to go through the day making safe, legal, or appropriate choices, and tell me tomorrow if you’re still feeling 'murdered and brutalized'.”