by Darryl Parker
The job of a police officer is still considered by many only for the inordinately courageous and admirable. Though police officers were once much more popular, there has been backlash against the backlash against officer misconduct, and society is now incredibly polarized on the issue of police criticism. Those who still revere law enforcement believe that officers who risk their own lives to put "bad guys" in jail should not be subjected to the scrutiny of the public. They feel that officers are entitled to autonomy because of their difficult and dangerous jobs.
This issue of “officer safety” seems to have overtaken all other aspects of police charge in their discharge of their duties.
For obvious reasons, officer safety is important and should not be dismissed or taken lightly, and there are frequent situations in which police officers should feel afraid for their lives. However, the hyper-emphasis of officer safety has resulted in dozens of needless shootings, as well as the justification of those shootings. Police officers elect to be a part of a dangerous profession out of their desire to protect and serve the public. We have a duty as citizens to contribute to a safe community environment, but officers have a duty to protect us, not the other way around. At least, this is the way we should look at it.
Police officers and fear
On September 4, 2014, video from South Carolina State Trooper Sean Groubert's dash cam shows him shooting Levar Jones, a Black man responding to Groubert's request for his driver’s license after being detained for driving while not wearing a seatbelt. Most people watching were stunned by how quickly the officer reached for his gun and fired multiple times at the unarmed, polite, and compliant man. Groubert went into panic mode and continued to fire his weapon at Mr. Jones even after it was clear he was not a threat, the last shot being fired while Jones had his hands up.
This tragedy (and the public response) is not only a result of systemic racism, but also the training that Groubert received at the academy in which he likely learned that his own safety is the most important consideration in policing. And so for Groubert, fear morphed into paranoia, which morphed into blind violence. I have no doubt that Groubert had convinced himself that this man truly was a threat that had to be eliminated. But that is the problem, and we've discussed why police officers shoot Black men so disproportionately. Society seems to have little trouble accepting a story in which a Black man is groundlessly made out to be a threat to the general public.
This is a dangerous mindset, for it discharges the need for doing any “police work” whatsoever. If “officer safety” trumps all else in any situation, police will simply eliminate all risk and danger by shooting anyone who makes them feel afraid. In most instances this would ensure a swift end to an incident without any danger to the officer. Is this really the mindset we want our law enforcement officers to have?
If we are to give police officers a heightened level of respect, shouldn't we also give them a heightened level of scrutiny? Isn't it that much more important to make sure that they are doing their very important jobs correctly?
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com