FLOWER MOUND, TX — September 13, 2020 — When I look at the highly publicized violent police incidents, it’s patently obvious why some of them result in death. Whether it’s the George Floyd “I can’t breathe” situation in Minneapolis, the Michael Brown shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri, the choke hold death of Eric Garner in New York City, or numerous other law-enforcement actions, one thing is clear; they all resisted arrest. They might all be alive today if they had simply obeyed the lawful orders of the police. That’s what decent people do when confronted by those who represent the system of laws by which civilized people live. We have many “rights” in this constitutional republic, but one of them is not the right to disobey the law, or those entrusted to enforce it.
During my 20 years as a cop in NYC, violent episodes during arrest situations were probably as common as they are today. The difference is, we didn’t have the Internet, iPhones and social media to broadcast every unsavory moment dealing with civilian-police encounters. Now that everyone has a camera, we have millions of wannabe producers, directors and editors, all of whom have opportunities to become instantly famous by virtue of selected video clips that can distort the “news” as cleverly as the New York Times distorts stories about President Trump. What the Times editors write, is the slant they want you to read. Similarly, what you view on those videos is often the slant the videographer wants you to see.
Inasmuch as there seems to be no limit to what can be posted on social media, and no penalties for distortions that incite people to riot, we have entered a phase in our history in which the potential for violent insurrection has been placed in the hands of the most malevolent purveyors of hatred for our country and for those who have a natural disdain for authority. Being an active cop for two decades provided me with an education about people that few “civilians” would understand. I learned that people intuitively understand the need for a system of laws, as well as the need for officers entrusted to enforce them. Yet, intuitive, or not, people don’t like getting arrested. During a serious criminal incident involving an apprehension and arrest, the offender often becomes a violent adversary with one goal; do anything necessary to get away. He may be on probation for another crime, meaning a new arrest may result in several years incarceration.
Think about the position of the cop when he stops a man for questioning under circumstances that appear suspicious. The man may be wanted for murder, robbery, rape, or any number of other felonies that would put him in a cell for a long time. With that in mind, he might be desperate enough to use a weapon on the cop to get away. Up to that point, the cop hasn’t determined the potential menace he’s facing, since he’s only doing a preliminary investigation. In this scenario the offender has an advantage on the cop because he knows what he’s going to do if the handcuffs come out. Faced with losing years of his life in prison, the felon is not likely to be taken easily.
The following is often the way the situation unfolds. The cop determines he has enough evidence to effect an arrest and informs the offender of the charges. “Hey man, I didn’t do anything and you’re not taking me!” the guy says. In this instance, the cop has no other options. He’s facing a man who broke the law and it’s his job to bring the guy in, period. He can’t walk away. He can’t tell the guy he’s forgiven. He can’t call his superior and ask for instructions. He must do what he was trained to do, otherwise, turn in the badge and gun.
Okay, now comes the part about getting cuffs on the guy and putting him in the patrol car. Please trust me on this; even with a partner helping you, its very difficult and dangerous to take someone who doesn’t want to go. A 110-pound woman can put up a ferocious battle to keep you from manacling her wrists together and dragging her into the car. Now, imagine a 6’3”, 220-pound, muscular antagonist who defies your lawful order to put his hands behind his back. The moment he refuses, the justice system is being tested. Either we enforce our laws, or we turn the country over to barbarians.
Which brings me to the reason for the title of this column. Cops are just people who go to work at a job and look forward to returning home to their families. They know the work is dangerous, so their adrenal gland is on high alert during physical confrontations. Being human, they may get scared, but they must respond when a crime occurs, and the offender is within their grasp. Deadly force is always the last resort. Still, if they get scared enough, they will do what it takes to ensure that they go home to family that night. Hence, when deadly force is used it’s not because the cop is brutal, it’s because he was trying to do his job against an offender who left him no choice.