Place yourself into a police cruiser in your mind. You hit the streets alone, armed primarily with the authority and respect of the badge which is pinned upon your uniform. Over and over in the course of your training the difference between situations requiring force and those requiring deadly force have been drilled into you. For the most part you are told, the presence you exude should be the primary determinant in resolving the vast majority of issues. That presence or control of the situation must shine through in all situations no matter how many questions are flying through your mind at the moment. When people see you and your police cruiser, their awareness of that presence should expand exponentially. That would be how it works in a perfect world of law enforcement.
But we don’t live in a perfect world today. In fact, we live in one that is far from perfect and getting worse every day. We live in a society today that all too often teaches a child to despise authority and rules. The visual image of a police officer arouses a sense of rebellion in such youngsters. After all, their parents were victims and now they are victims, too, continually being harassed by the law for simply doing whatever it is they want to do. You see, these people have no respect for the law, nor any for those who have the job of seeing that the law is enforced. In the case of Ferguson, such enforcement was the simple order to get out of the street and stop obstructing traffic. Issuing that directive was the duty of that officer, and following it was the duty of those two young men. This is the exact point at which distorting the story begins. A witness says, “We were just minding our own business. . .” No, you were walking down the middle of the street obstructing traffic—you got it wrong right out of the starting blocks, unless you meant that disregarding the law was your business.
Think about mindset for a bit. We all have one—it’s part of our nature as a human being. Law enforcement officers have one and they have to be very aware of it. Criminals and lawbreakers also have one and the officers must attempt to predict those mindsets as quickly as possible or they just might end up dead. If your mindset is opposed to the law and those who enforce it, then you are probably going to start running your mouth and showing disdain the minute you are requested to comply with the law—like an officer giving you firm directions to get out of the street! Your mindset becomes your controlling attitude and you quickly begin to exhibit both physical and verbal rebellion toward any instructions you receive, citing your perception that this is a free world and you’ll do any damn thing you please! Well now, it looks like you just opened yourself up for a free lesson in law enforcement.
Of course, in situations such as that in Ferguson, the attention gets quickly turned to the mindset of the officer. No one really knows his mindset but the story quickly advances that he was just itching to shoot someone and he scratched that itch by executing an unarmed young man in the street. That sounds pretty good huh? After all, the officer had a gun and the young man is dead—what other proof do we need of the officer’s mindset? Never mind that this officer had been on the streets of Ferguson for over six years. Never mind that there is not one negative mark on his record; to the contrary, the officer had been decorated and recognized for his service. Ask yourself why any law enforcement person who was just itching to shoot someone would wait six years to do so when he had a gun on his belt the first day he was on the job? The math does not compute.
Officers are killed in the line of duty every day. In fact, in the past decade, 1539 officers were killed in the line of duty, for an average of 154 each year, or one every 57 hours. That number would be much higher if not for the fact that officers are trained in a protocol to protect themselves in a dangerous situation. A dangerous situation does not simply refer to one in which the suspect is armed with a gun or knife, but also one in which the actions of the suspect are threatening. For all the officer knows in that moment, the person in question possesses a black belt in Karate. Thus, the protocol as defined says that no one is to move aggressively toward the officer. That protocol also includes the “21 foot rule” which stipulates the actions to be taken based on the distance between two people. Practically speaking, when a person gets within 21 feet of you, their momentum forward can overwhelm the speed with which you are able to react (i.e., fire your weapon). This is the very reason suspects are told “Put down the weapon and get down on the ground” and it is precisely the reason why following such instructions is the healthy thing to do. Officers who ignore this rule or hesitate tend to become part of those annual death statistics mentioned above.
Law enforcement is something an overwhelming majority of the citizens of this nation want. If we were all respectful and law-abiding, then maybe we could do without it, but that is not the reality. We have and will always have human elements within our society who are determined to break the law and bring harm to others. People who pursue careers in law enforcement work for us and work to protect us each day; they realize how important the public trust is and they work hard to earn that trust. When we jump to conclusions before an investigation is completed— as is the case in Ferguson— then we may as well have gone into the streets and simply shot the officer ourselves. Use some logic and wait for the facts to be gathered.
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