Deacon Ian Punnett –
Shortly after a lone, white gunman shot and killed a police officer and two others at a Colorado Springs, CO, Planned Parenthood clinic, I posed a question on Twitter that has yet to receive a suitable answer. Well, no answers, actually, just several dozen retweets and a few people who wrote back saying, basically, “How dare you ask that question?”
Anytime people react to a question with a high-strung emotional response that expresses outrage or umbrage without germane content, I think I must be onto something. A glance at any of the political coverage lately is a good reminder: The better the question asked by the press, the louder the hue and cry from candidates for asking it.
And so it was with my simple, tweeted question after SWAT team negotiators were able to bring in 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear alive following a standoff that lasted for hours. “How can cops manage to restrain themselves with an armed, white cop killer but panic around a black teen with a knife?” Allow me to note that Dear has not been convicted of killing anybody, at the moment he just stands as accused. But the point is, he stands. Many unarmed or lightly armed black (mostly) teens who also had not been convicted of anything were shot dead just for being a perceived threat, in many cases within seconds of a police officer showing up.
A sincere, passionate cop that follows me on Twitter took up the defense by suggesting that this was a case of law enforcement being “damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” which is silly. Of course, I was not suggesting that the police on the scene in Colorado should be criticized for NOT killing the suspect, rather, here was a case where the accused had, reportedly, bombs and a high-powered rifle that he had already used to kill a police officer. Laquan McDonald was a 17-year-old boy who was shot sixteen times in fifteen seconds by a Chicago police officer who maintains he was justified in killing the knife-carrying kid standing ten yards from him because, “I felt threatened.” This “I felt threatened” defense has been used repeatedly, successfully, by police officers, police departments and police unions to the public and to juries.
As somebody who counts himself as pro-police, I have been predisposed to trust a police officer’s judgement, but the images of body cams, dashcams and citizen cell phone videos too often tell a completely different story than the official police testimony with regard to curbside justice. Police must function within the confines of our Constitution. Executing Laquan McDonald because he was disrespecting a police officer’s command is nothing more than cruel and unusual punishment. I remain pro-police, but I am increasingly anti-authority.
The standoff in Colorado only makes it worse. The accused allegedly had already killed a cop and had multiple weapons. If they had shot Dear on the grounds that the police officers there “felt threatened,” that would make sense to me. I could support that. They were being threatened. Tragically, there was a body lying there to prove it. As of this writing, the police shooting of a Muslim couple that was accused of killing fourteen in San Bernardino, CA, makes a similar kind of sense. According to police, she was driving and he was firing a gun and throwing pipe bombs out the window. Lethal force seems justified under those circumstances.
But in the case of the white, abortion-clinic shooter, following another police narrative, law enforcement proudly brought the suspect in to be tried for his crimes, as they emphasized their professionalism for not shooting somebody unnecessarily. That is the preferred method. But how come, on the other side of town, videos show black teenagers with their hands raised in surrender, or unarmed and running in a direction away from the police, being shot dead anyway while police officers file false reports to cover each other?
The public has a right to be confused by the “I felt threatened” defense. It made sense in San Bernardino, but it makes no sense with Laquan McDonald, yet the outcomes are the same and police demand we look the other way from the video that proves it.
It’s a hard time to be a cop, no doubt. Sadly, the police themselves have created this cognitive dissonance. So, I’ll keep asking until I get an answer someday: “How can cops manage to restrain themselves with an armed, white cop killer but panic around a black teen with a knife?”