29 December 2015
When the opposite of justice is not a crime
Tamir Rice, a husky 12 year old, was shot to death by police because he'd been brandishing a too-realistic toy gun in a park. While most (or at least many) Americans agree that this was wrong, our legal system limits what we can do about it. Once again a grand jury refrained from indicting a cop who killed an unarmed person, determining that he acted within constitutional boundaries, however deplorable the results. Once again, cop apologists rose to say that the victim deserved what he got, if only because this victim was stupid enough to wave that toy around or, once the police appeared, reach into his coat for the toy at a moment when the cop couldn't know it wasn't real. Look at the comment thread for this article if you doubt me. Once again the morale of the police matters more than what must still be called innocent life. Because cops may have to make hair-trigger decisions with their lives actually at stake, we cannot criminalize their mistakes or really do anything to discourage them from making the same hair-trigger decision every time. As long as a lawyer can convince people that the officer had understandable concerns -- the lawyers prefer to say "reasonable"-- for his safety, his badge gives him a Get Out of Jail Free card. And once again I'm going to write that the laws have to be changed and that there has to be democratic input in regulating police procedure, not just because black lives or others matter but because the people's right to demand and define proper policing trumps policemen's right to job security. If civilian life matters then it should be a matter of statutory law that a cop pays a penalty if it is proven that his bullet contributed to the death of an unarmed person. If this is a democracy then it's our prerogative to insist that killing unarmed people, even when they're resisting arrest, is unacceptable, and it's our prerogative to demand police who are capable of subduing unarmed people without killing them. And no, we don't need to walk in their shoes before we judge them, because we pay for those shoes and we can tell them how to walk in them. If people have no better reason to disagree with this than that they don't like the attitude or behavior of some of those protesting this state of affairs, then they really have nothing to contribute to the debate and should be ignored. That's wishful thinking in our risk-free democracy, of course, but if democracy really works and the majority thinks as I hope they do, eventually the law will ignore them.