The Saturday Evening Post was an American treasure. Norman Rockwell’s covers depicted America as I experienced it growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. I remember many of those famous covers, but a single one saddens me as I recall the image. A smiling policeman was helping a child who was apparently lost. My how times have changed. Being in this profession I probably read too much. Unfortunately most of the news is not pleasant. For instance, just last night another unarmed man was shot to death by police in Los Angeles. Continuous reports and videos have influenced me to join the ranks of the majority who now fear law enforcement, and have little or no respect for those who are intended to protect us from dangerous situations. They have become the object of our fears.
When a member of law enforcement is killed while in the performance of his or her duty, a parade ensues, and the memorial service is attended by scores of fellow officers and government officials. That is expected. When a police officer, or officers gun down an unarmed man, the offense is rarely thoroughly investigated and even more rarely prosecuted.
Law enforcement does not keep accurate records of individuals killed by their own. And it appears to be intentional.
Last night’s murder in Los Angeles involved a former mental patient who was homeless. As he began fighting with police other officers joined in the scuffle. At least one officer un-holstered his weapon and shot the man, killing him. The entire incident was filmed by a bystander.
Should police be allowed to carry guns? Their purpose is to protect citizens, and to defend themselves from attack. When they are used to murder unarmed individuals the event is casually referred to ‘excessive use of force.’ There are no parades for victims of ‘excessive force.’
Although there are no confirmed statistics regarding police shootings, newspaper reports reveal that the cities where police are most feared are Memphis, Tennessee, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cleveland, Ohio, and several in the state of Texas.
Members of law enforcement are rarely indicted by grand juries after use of ‘excessive force.’ Multiple cases within the United States over the previous 12 months prove that fact. What has become obvious is that if the confrontation is between police and a minority, the officers are more likely to use lethal force. Power and arrogance appear to inspire illegal and immoral actions.
Cities across the nation defend their law enforcement agencies without seriously questioning actions taken against the very citizens they are supposed to protect.
In November of last year 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot to death in Cleveland, Ohio, by a police officer. A squad car carrying two policemen was dispatched to a recreational area after a 911 call reporting an individual wielding a gun was received. When they arrived they encountered a sixth grader who had something in his hand which appeared to be a handgun. As the officers exited their vehicle, they failed to further investigate the situation, and within two seconds of their arrival, Officer Timothy Loehmann fired shots which resulted in the boy’s death. The dispatcher failed to give the responding policemen information that the 911 caller thought the weapon was fake. It was in fact a pellet gun.
Tamir’s family is suing the city. The city supports Officer Loehmann expressing the opinion that he was well within his rights to defend himself.
We call those in government and law enforcement the ‘authorities.’ The fact is that they have no authority unless it is given to them by the people. Those in law enforcement make instant decisions based on their initial assessment of a situation. They decide right or wrong without corroborating evidence. Fear of the ‘authorities’ is a growing concern, and it is the result of poorly trained law enforcement.
When those in authority are immune from the law a ‘police state’ results. We are devolving into just such a situation. The very reason authorities criticize protests over unlawful action by law enforcement is because they are encouraging such response. Protection of the few and disregarding the many has become the new American standard. Human lives become collateral damage all too frequently.
Commentary by James Turnage