Just Say No?

Every time I read a post about an “officer-involved” shooting, I wonder if it always has been this way or if this is new. Are we merely hearing about it more because there is no such thing as “local” news anymore? Or are we merely seeing it more because everyone carries a video camera with them everywhere they go? The more I read these stories, the more I want answers. Answers to why we see these killings. Answers to how we can make them stop.

The only conclusion that makes any sense to me is that this is the logical consequence of declaring a “war” on drugs. We have told the police to fight a war in our own country. They simply are behaving accordingly. Drug dealers don’t wear uniforms or drive marked cars. Every stop might be an innocent encounter. Or it might be another battle. The public is innocent. And the public is the enemy. Because we told the police that we are the enemy.

So while police officers are arming themselves for war as fast as they can, with armored vehicles and other weapons of war, we haven’t trained them to go to war. If we had, maybe more encounters would be like the one between Officer Stephen Mader, an ex-Marine cop having served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and R.J. Williams: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sept. 11, 2016):

After responding to a report of a domestic incident on May 6 in Weirton, W.Va., then-Weirton police officer Stephen Mader found himself confronting an armed man. Immediately, the training he had undergone as a Marine to look at “the whole person” in deciding if someone was a terrorist, as well as his situational police academy training, kicked in and he did not shoot.

“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mr. Mader recalled, noting the silver handgun was in the man’s right hand, hanging at his side and pointed at the ground.

Mr. Mader, who was standing behind Mr. Williams’ car parked on the street, said he then “began to use my calm voice.” “I told him, ‘Put down the gun,’ and he’s like, ‘Just shoot me.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not going to shoot you brother.’ Then he starts flicking his wrist to get me to react to it. “I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop” situation.

Only when the non-ex-Marine cops showed up, did Mr. Williams get shot:

But just then, two other Weirton officers arrived on the scene, Mr. Williams walked toward them waving his gun — later found to be unloaded — between them and Mr. Mader, and one of them shot Mr. Williams’ in the back of the head just behind his right ear, killing him.

Would training cops how to go to war help stop killings? Yes. But that’s not a good answer. I don’t want Officer Mader to have to make that calculation, even if he can do it correctly every time. (And of course, he won’t need to, since the response was to fire him.)

So, we either need to call a cease-fire, or we need to fight the war in a different manner. Whether or not you like Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No”, it’s certainly preferable to getting shot. But is it even possible to call a cease-fire? And, if so, would it last?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *