By Benjamin Solomon, Staff Writer
The United States can be a dangerous place. In 2016, around 11,000 people died in gun homicides, according to the Associated Press (this does not include suicides). Over 1,000 of those firearm deaths came from the police, according to the Guardian.
In 2016, law enforcement was responsible for 9% of all non-suicide gun deaths in the country. In the same year, 59 people were killed by terrorists.
This doesn’t mean that all police killings are unjustified. The issue is that there are enough that are unjustified.
Think about it – how often do you see that another person (likely of color) has been killed because the police thought they had a gun, and that was enough reason to shoot them?
For example, Stephon Clark of Sacramento was at 20 times and killed by police because he was holding a cell phone during a police chase just last month.
In 2016, Philando Castile was shot seven times, to death, by a police officer during a traffic stop after telling the officer that he was legally carrying a gun. The officer was acquitted.
Some police officers misuse guns. The crucial problem is that they are not treated like regular people. Police officers are almost always given the benefit of the doubt in the case of a shooting.
This goes too far. Courts consider it excusable for a police officer to shoot someone out of fear for their life – but what exactly is a good reason to fear for one’s life is not clearly defined. Since this is not defined, the excuse can be stretched to let police officers get away with more than they should.
That being said, being a law enforcement officer is not a license to kill in every situation.
In 2016, Charles Kinsey, a mental therapist, was attempting to help an autistic patient of his who was sitting in the road. Allegedly out of concern that Kinsey’s patient would attack him, a police officer shot Kinsey in the leg and left him handcuffed and bleeding on the ground for 20 minutes. The officer was charged with manslaughter a year ago.
A main issue here is that some officers feel that they should shoot first and ask questions later. It doesn’t matter if a court finds them guilty of manslaughter later, they have already shot and potentially killed someone.
This is in part due to a power dynamic. The way things are, police officers are always in a position of power over regular people. This is partially due to the fact that police can often justify violence with the law, and partially due to the fact that they are armed, and most people are not.
Where there is a power dynamic, it will be abused by some of those on top. To that end, why not work to get rid of that dynamic? Why even things out, and disarm the police?
Let’s stop there. Police exist for a reason, to enforce the law. Do they need guns for most of their duties? Giving parking tickets, investigating domestic disturbances – these are things that can be handled without pointing deadly weapons at people.
Firearms should be treated as a last resort. Police officers should not carry firearms with them and should instead rely on non-lethal tools. In most places, they should call in the guns separately, not use them to escalate conflict.