There’s an old saw that goes: “All laws are ultimately enforced at gunpoint.” Back in 2012, a man in Roswell, Georgia who liked to raise chickens blew his home to smithereens rather than let himself be evicted by authorities. He had a long-running tiff with Fulton County, which jailed him for his fowl-keeping.
If you can be jailed for chickens, you can be killed for looking like a “bad dude.” Terence Crutcher was shot and killed In Tulsa because he refused to get on his knees as officer Betty Shelby ordered him. He had his hands in the air, but continued walking toward an SUV stopped in the middle of the road, as officers watched and a police helicopter filmed above.
Cops are not lawyers. Like the TV show “Law and Order,” they are the “order” part of our law enforcement system. They are also the “gunpoint” part of enforcing laws. Is there a law that says you have to get on your knees when so ordered by an officer? Not specifically, but when a citizen is interacting with police, law has little to do with it.
Officer Shelby believed that Crutcher was under the influence of drugs. “He had a very hollow look in his face, kind of a thousand yard stare,” her lawyer Scott Wood told CNN. She came on the scene completely at random; she was driving by and saw Crutcher and the SUV stopped in the road. We can ask a question to which we know the answer—and this isn’t one of those social justice questions. If Crutcher had been a well-dressed man in a suit, who didn’t look like a “bad dude,” would she have drawn her gun on him?
Police make mistakes, and police are people, with their own predispositions, tingly-arm-hair feelings, gut reactions, and raw fear. Law has nothing to do with it when you are the one in the situation.
In Philadelphia, in July, an Islamist walked up to a police car and attempted to execute the police officer inside. In Valdosta, an officer responding to a 911 call made by 22-year-old Stephen Paul Beck was shot twice by Beck. Officer Randal Hancock returned fire. Both men survived, as did the officer in Philadelphia.
Wednesday evening, in an all-too-familiar scene, protests morphed into riots in Charlotte in response to police shooting and killing Keith L. Scott. Scott happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, when officers were searching for another man with an outstanding warrant. The officers were not in uniform, according to Scott’s family. Authorities contend that Scott was armed.
Exactly what law was being enforced with Scott? It seems that police have gone from being the “order” part of law and order to Judge Dredd’s “I am the law.” Many times, their primary motivation appears to be self-preservation and control of unknown situations. Take control, observe, and if in danger, pull the trigger. Don’t let yourself be hunted.
Make no mistake: They are being hunted.
It’s true that there are some evil individuals like Micah Xavier Johnson out there who hunt the police. Johnson gunned down five Dallas police officers and wounded seven others during a peaceful protest against police violence in the wake of Minnesota and Louisiana shootings by officers. The cops on the street never know when they’re going to encounter a Johnson, or a Beck, or someone seeking to execute them.
America must get control of “order” if we want to stop the tearing and fraying of “law.” Going to military-style policing is not the answer, unless you, as a citizen, enjoy a society filled with checkpoints and rifle-toting, military-garbed officers asking “papers, please?”
I didn’t think so.
For what my two cents are worth: It’s better that some warrants don’t get served today. It’s better than some who deserve to be arrested don’t get arrested. It’s better that some justice is delayed. It’s better that not all laws get enforced at gunpoint. It’s better that police reserve to themselves the task of making those of us who value safety, safer, than continue this cycle of death.
If that means some neighborhoods have “space to riot” for a while, so be it. That’s what they want, so give it to them. No more huge downtown protests. Protest in your own neighborhood. And when it’s all burned to the ground, with the National Guard standing watch to ensure the violence doesn’t spread, maybe the rioters will decide that law and order isn’t so bad after all.