In light of recent events, e.g. the November 24, 2014 “no indictment” grand jury verdict for Officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, I decided to make my first blog post about our civil responsibility when confronted by police. This topic also gives me a platform to debunk four myths I believe foster the atmosphere of police shootings. But before I elaborate on these myths it must be made very clear that I in no way condone the unlawful or unethical behavior of rouge police officers towards anyone, especially African-Americans; the group to which I belong.
Historically white officers have face far less scrutiny for their decision to discharge firearms when the perpetrators/suspects/detainees are persons of color. Thus it’s reasonable for minorities to assume cops would feel less apprehensive about using deadly force in situations involving so-called minorities than whites. Coupled with the fear of black men innate to American culture and one could have reason enough to doubt the shooting was the last resort.
(The phenomena of white people being subjected to little or no scrutiny for their account of altercations with persons of African heritage isn’t limited to (white) police officers. White victims alleging crimes by minorities are also less scrutinized; e.g. Charles Stuart 1989, Susan Smith 1994, and Bonnie Sweeten 2009 just to name a few in recent times. The phenomena of white cops being less apprehensive to shoot minority suspects and the media overly sympathizing with white victims who allege crimes by minority “perps” are residual behavior of America’s racist origin and cannot be denied.)
By posting this article I in no way intend to excuse or justify any fatal shootings resulting from the bias or unscrupulous behavior of police officers. Let me be crystal clear; police brutality is a disgusting abuse of power and public trust! The objective of this post is to inform the public on how they may possibly avoid a shooting incident altogether, not to debate police brutality. I wish to share tips for defusing a potentially hostile situation between police officer and “suspect” who both begin the encounter with good intentions.
If a (so-called) minority comes face to face with a racist cop hell-bent on murder, and make no mistake this would be murder, there is little that can be done to deter this cop. I will not be addressing that scenario here. Also I will not expound upon the Police and African-American community dynamic any further than I have above. This article is about the civilian’s role during an encounter with a police officer.
Furthermore by publishing this article I am not saying that individuals subjected to police brutality are guilty of tumultuous behavior or of not trying to defuse an explosive situation. I desire only to share a perspective from an African-American male who served 5 years in the U.S. Marines, and as such have gained tactical knowledge that I believe may be beneficial to civilians who encounter police officers.
I’ve seen partial video clips of unsubstantiated police brutality instances posted on multiple venues of social media. Just the videos mind you; no offered solutions, no petitions… Nothing but emotion-provoking videos. We already know this is a very serious systemic problem (innate to current culture); possibly even a systematic problem (i.e. formal policy).
What I am certain we need is less emotional fuel being poured on what is already an inferno, and more productive advice to extinguish it; like how to conduct ourselves during the encounter so that we can report them once we are out of harm’s way. Otherwise this type of information, i.e. rehashing the question without offering answers, could have an adverse effect; heightening our anxiety of the police which causes us to act in a manner that is more conductive to this outcome. Actions like elevated voices and sudden or delayed movement.
Without tàking sides here, as a formal Marine who served 5 years as an enlisted man I know full well how certain behavior accelerates the choice to use deadly force, while other behavior decelerates it. I say decelerate instead of eliminate because the option to use deadly force is never completely off the table. In an already chaotic situation the less predictable a suspect’s behavior the more likely it is the suspect will have a gun drawn on him or her. Reversely, behavior which aids in the police officer’s sense of control over the situation dramatically decreases the chance the encounter ends in gunfire. Remember, the odds are in the officer’s favor due entirely to the nature of his or her job. Therefore bantering and bickering with an officer in this situation is fruitless.
An armed police officer, as would be the case with a Marine, fully expects to be addressed and treated as one with authority; or at the very least to be revered as one with a loaded gun. So in addition to complying with lawful orders, being respectful helps get the situation under control. If the officer is disrespectful, address this disrespect civilly. First get through the encounter, then follow through at the police station or with an attorney later.
I like to think of myself as a man’s man. So I know the significance of being respected. Therefore I would never suggest you allow yourself to be disrespected. I am suggesting that your priority during the encounter be to reassure the officer that the threat level is zero, and that he or she is safe to conduct official business without interruption from you. There’s nothing unmanly about helping to calm a situation down by presenting yourself as non-threaten.
Here are the four myths (in no particular order):
Myth 1: Peace Officers are Peaceful Officers.
Police officers, sometimes referred to as “peace” officers are not necessarily peaceful in the Martin Luther King Jr. sense of the word. They are not non-violent arresters. They do not wait until a suspect is ready to cooperate before placing him or her in custody. They are not dispatched to calm down a scene as much as they are there to get things under control by legal means, to include violence if necessary. They will use force as they see fit in order to place a suspect in custody or under arrest. Thus a police officer’s intensity will match the perceived threat level. Notice I said perceived threat and not actual threat.
There is no way a police officer can know the actual threat level. Just identifying who is the perpetrator and who is the victim can be challenging at times. To even come within 70% accuracy of the up-to-the-minute threat level would require military grade intelligence. So the most important first step is to get the police officer’s perception of the threat level down to that of the actual threat level, which for the purpose of this discussion is assumed to be zero. But how is this accomplished?
When a police officer comes in hot, meaning the perceived threat is high and imminent determined by details of the call or initial assessment of the scene, the threat level goes to zero only after all suspects are in custody, i.e. secured or detained either in handcuffs or encaged in a vehicle. Being locked in a police vehicle or secured in restraints (e.g. handcuffs, zip-ties) is not necessarily being placed under arrest. An arrest is the finite suspension of your ability to move about freely accompanied by one’s Miranda Rights. Until the officer has secured all suspects he or she must continue to calculate and assess the threat level.
9 times out of 10 your reality, having been at the scene as the situation unfolded and knowing your true intentions, will not be the police officer’s initial reality, who arrives to the scene at its climax unaware of your intentions. Therefore yelling your point of view or aggressively walking towards the officer is counterproductive to your cause. It would be like smiling at a dog the first time you meet it; a dog that sees the fangs of a potential threat. Likewise, police officers are not clairvoyant.
Myth 2: After Multiple Verbal Warnings a Police Officer Must Shoot with the Intent to Wound.
I blame cinema and television series directly for this myth; the glorification of elite marksmen who with a single shot can dislodge a gun out of a combatant’s hand, or put a round into his shooting shoulder. However it is called deadly force for good reason. Police officers, like military servicemen and servicewomen, are trained to aim center mass, i.e. the chest area, not at shoulders, limbs, or hands. Typically an arm or leg is hit only when it gets in the way of a center mass shot or the round (bullet) drifts from center mass, due to the inaccuracy of a pistol’s very short barrel (as opposed to a rifle’s much longer barrel). In fact there are no arms and legs to speak of on a traditional shooting target. At the rifle range I was trained to identify the target, raise my weapon, aim center mass, then focus on the “clear tip of the front sight post,” blurring the target in the distance. Firing a pistol isn’t much different.
Once the officer determines that deadly force is necessary each shoot is delivered with the intent to “permanently stop” the assailant; death being the most permanent way to stop him or her! Again, as a Marine I’ve received similar training.
A police officer is not your parent, or friend for that matter. What I really mean to say is he is not obligated to see the best in you. She will not count down from 10 while you continue to mouth off or misbehave until just before the count reaches 1. It is true that an officer is compelled by law to provide at least one verbal warning prior to discharging his or her weapon. But even this is conditional. There must be an apparent opportunity to do so. In a life-threatening situation it is unlikely there will be a second verbal warning. Besides, a drawn aimed weapon is itself a warning. And there will be no warning shot.
Myth 3: A Police Officer can only Fire on an Assailant who Fires First.
Just because a person is later determined to have been unarmed doesn’t mean this person could not have been a threat to life and limb; or conversely that this person was shot despite his or her attempt to defuse the perceived threat. In other words, a police officer, or military personnel for that matter, may feel that by the time a suspect reveals a concealed weapon (after initially refusing to show their hands) it may be too late. If in this situation your movements are too sudden, it’s possible an officer in a heighten state (with weapon drawn) will fire just seconds after a verbal warning.
Myth 4: “Innocent until Proven Guilty” is a Deterrent for Deadly Force.
Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law has no bearing on the detainment and arrest process. The first priority of an officer on the scene, tactically, should be to secure the area, e.g. neutralize the threat. The quicker the threat level is reduced to zero the sooner civil behavior between officer and detainee can commence. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, the guilt or innocence of a suspect is irrelevant to this objective. Only the suspect’s willingness or unwillingness to cooperate factors in at this point. The zero-sum rule of thumb in a potentially hostile situation could very well be, the innocent hardly ever resists arrest, but the guilty almost always does. This statement is no more the constant than any other superstition but in matters of life or death, it is a viable assumption.
Do not fall prey to these myths. The police are empowered by the state to make lawful arrests. We are empowered by the U.S. Constitution to remain silent (which implies stillness). Do not resist a lawful arrest! If the arrest is unjust, fight it in court; not right then and there on the street. Resisting Arrest is itself a chargeable offensive. The police officer needs to secure the scene in order to process the scene. Do not hinder this process. Instead, help expedite it by cooperating and showing yourself as a non-combatant. Just as a child may have difficulty discerning between a good stranger and a bad one by just looking at them, officers cannot know for certain who’s a threat and who isn’t when first arriving on the scene.
While it is true that I referenced the Michael Brown case, I am not speaking directly to Michael Brown’s situation. The only intended correlation between this article and the Michael Brown situation is that an opportunity to disseminate information has presented itself. As a father of two I sincerely sympathize with the Brown family. I have no opinion about Officer Darren Wilson personally as I only know, or should I say am aware of, what has been communicated in the media. My intention was to provide the public with potentially lifesaving information as it relates to encounters with police officers; information based on personal military training.
The advice presented in this article is not specific to any case, past or pending, nor is it in anyway vindication for any police officer accused or found guilty of police brutality. This article was written to counteract misinformation, i.e. the four myths I have addressed here. I felt it was important to provide the public with information other than these myths I attempted to disprove in this article. I do not wish to even appear to speak in defense of “bad cops” or “criminals,” but rather speak up for good cops and law-abiding citizens.
When engaging a police officer be civil. Be safe. And live to fight another “way” (if need be)!