13 October 2015

A reasonable murder

In case my last post appeared dismissive of black concerns, it's about time I said something about the outrageous outcome of the investigation into the killing by Cleveland police of Tamir Rice a 12 year old boy who'd been playing in a park with a toy gun. It was, in fact, outrageously predictable. As in most such cases, the only thing that really mattered was whether the policeman acted in a "reasonable" way, whether it was "reasonable" for him to believe he may have been threatened by a pre-teen, or "reasonable" to believe the gun was real. Consequences, shmonsequences. That the boy died doesn't matter -- and such are the ways of the police that his life most likely would have mattered no more or no less had his skin color been different. Debate away whether he would have felt less threatened had the boy been white, but don't let that debate distract you from the abominable nature of this case and the cop's likely exoneration. We've heard the cop logic before, and all too often: we can't punish them for making mistakes on hair-trigger judgment calls like this one because that might make other cops hesitate when they really need to shoot. In other words, cops are undeterrable because we can't allow them to be deterred. Society needs them to be hair-trigger death machines, it seems, and the rest of us had best not set them off by doing anything that smacks of non-compliance, much less threat, or else we, as any number of online or phone-in boors will tell you, will only have ourselves to blame. Cases like these could be one of the best arguments for reverting to the individual prerogative of self-defense, but somehow I don't envision the NRA making the argument. But if we must have police and they must be hair-trigger death machines, and they can't be held accountable for mistakes, then it should be up to each killer cop's employer, his municipality, to pay up big time when objective inquiries reasonably determine that innocent people were killed. Maybe the thing to do is get a federal law passed (good luck with this Congress) creating a federal board of inquiry for all killings by cops and mandatory punitive damages charged against the municipality when cops are found at fault. When the taxpayers suffer for the mistakes of their police, we may finally get a consensus for radical police reform. Rather than dream, however, let's reject the cop logic that raises the specters of dead police to scare us into forgiving lethal mistakes. Let the ultimate employers of the police, the people, state with sovereign authority that atrocities like the killing of Rice are unreasonable, and that we will get rid of unreasonable police who can't defend us without wantonly killing people, until we find people who can do the job right. That might lead us to question what doing the job right means, but that can only be a good thing.

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