I agree with just about every word of Matthew Hennessey’s post in City Journal on the murder of five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night:
Ordinary, law-abiding people should be allowed to foul up, most of us agree. This is a free country, not a totalitarian police state. No one “deserves to die” while riding in a car with a legal gun, just as no one deserves to die for selling CDs in a parking lot or peddling loose cigarettes. But on Staten Island, where Eric Garner died during a confrontation with the NYPD in July 2014, what turned the encounter from a routine arrest into a tragedy was Garner’s failure to heed police commands. He was ordered to comply and he refused. He told the cops, “This ends today.” That was a mistake.
Did the NYPD cops who dealt with Garner mess up? You bet. One of them put Garner in a chokehold, banned by department regulations, and Garner died. But no cop shows up to work looking to kill someone, and the day would have ended differently had Garner followed the instructions he was given. Sad but true.
We should hold cops to a higher standard of accountability than the average citizen because they are given great power—including the legal use of deadly force. Yet, we can’t forget that the police are people, too. They don’t have unlimited patience or a sixth sense about when their job will turn violent. Recognizing bad guys takes experience—and a critical aspect of experience is learning from mistakes.
This creates an obvious problem. The collective experience of all cops is supposed to be distilled into police training programs, but each individual cop must learn some hard lessons on his own. All the training in the world won’t put an end to police mistakes. The only way to have no police mistakes is to have no police.
When every party does everything perfectly correctly, as in the case related in the Facebook post I passed along yesterday, there’s a happy ending. When mistakes are made, tragedies may occur instead. The more heavily armed you are, the more dire the consequences of your screwing up.
There’s an aspect of the phenomena he describes that deserves more emphasis: rich people can screw up without serious consequences more readily than poor people can; white than black. That’s unjust but I don’t know if it’s remediable. The latter case maybe, over time. In the case of the former the cure would probably be worse than the disease.
One more point, brought to mind by murders in Dallas and the other instance of race-based homicidal violence perpetrated by a black man against whites. Whatever the injustices suffered by blacks in this country, the very last thing black folk should want is race war. In such a war too many of the casualties would be black. That’s something of which the civil rights leaders in the 1960s were painfully aware but I’m afraid that recognition has been lost today.