Friday, March 16, 2007

shoot to kill

As India investigates the police firing in Nandigram, New York has indicted three police officers for firing 50 rounds into a carful of unarmed men. Naturally, the police spokesman tells the press that the indictment sends a dangerous message to policeman, saying, “The message that’s being sent now is that even though you’re acting in good faith, in pursuit of your lawful duties, there is no room, no margin for error.”

But consider the facts of the case. After a black officer fired the first shot, a white officer emptied his magazine into the car, reloaded, and emptied another magazine, firing a total of 31 bullets at the unarmed "suspects"--all of whom were black. Fortunately, only one of them was killed. Three shots is a margin of error. But 31 from one guy, and 50 in all? I don't think so.

This goes to an important aspect of policing that is all too often ignored. The job of the police is to maintain law and order, yes, but too often the struggle to do so becomes an ego trip. You don't get out of the car when I say, you must be made to submit--whether that means being frightened, humiliated, beaten down, or, in this case shot. A whole lot of stupid policies are enacted in support of this attitude. For instance, the police are issued semi-automatic weapons (allowing them to fire 50 shots in the course of a minute or two) because they supposedly should not be outgunned by criminals. But why is that the case, when a firefight in an open street endangers far more people than would letting the criminals escape? Even more egregious are the high-speed chases (a favorite on those awful real-life video shows) in which the cops put ten or fifteen careening vehicles on the road supposedly to stop one reckless driver--making him drive much more recklessly, and for a much longer time. Meanwhile, they have the guy's description and license number, through which they can get his address. Why not just let him drive off and pick him up at six in the morning when he's sleeping off his hangover? Because that would be a blow to the ego.

Sometimes, you have to think with your brain and not your balls, folks. Let 'em go, if it's smarter and safer. Pick 'em up later. England has the right idea, with its unarmed police. That way, if the coppers are scared of black folks, their mistakes are less costly and they have to get really close to bludgeon somebody to death.

No comments: