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Friday, July 15, 2016

I Blame the Police

'The Counted' (image: Guardian UK)
'The Counted' (image: Guardian UK)

By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News
10 July 16
 

want to be very clear: what happened in Dallas this week was not merely a despicable act, or an attack on democracy as some have categorized it. It was a direct consequence of an unprecedented campaign of lethal force applied by law enforcement agencies across the country.

U.S. cops kill. They kill at a rate unparalleled anywhere else in the world. The killing exceeds that of any domestic nationwide police contingent in history, during peacetime. These are not Praetorian-style security forces, shadowy death squads, or uniformed police acting at the behest of drug lords, they are fully sanctioned, state-sponsored civilian police forces functioning in a supposedly democratic state.

The numbers are staggering. Private media accounts, because private media accounts are the only ones available to the public, put the number of people killed by U.S. police so far this year at 571 (as of this writing). This simply does not happen anywhere else in the world and never has.

Micah Johnson, the man who attacked police with an assault rifle at an anti-police violence rally in Dallas, was the 566th. Five more people have been killed by U.S. police since the events in Dallas. This according to The Guardian’s ongoing landmark investigation, The Counted: People killed by police in the US.

Vice President Joe Biden delivered an address today that eulogized in heroic tones the police officers killed and wounded in Dallas. His rationale, while heart-rending, leads toward, not away from, the violence he urged Americans to reject.

Biden said in part, “Being a cop wasn’t just what they did. It was who they were – like every officer who joined for essentially the same reason. There was something about them that made them think they could help, that they should serve, that they had a duty.” While those are stirring words, they obfuscate the truth.

The truth is that U.S. police are trained to kill. Not just maim, wound, or subdue – kill. The problem is systemic, from the highest echelons of government right down to the patrol officer on the street. “Kill when you need to kill. We’ve got your back.”

There are a number of initiatives in the U.S. to promote training that would teach police officers to de-escalate potentially violent situations. The instruction is referred to as “de-escalation training.” It is a good idea that will fail. As long as police officers are confident that they can kill with impunity, they will continue to kill. Make no mistake about it: today in America, police kill with impunity.

Not until police officers are consistently held accountable by the justice system will the appalling number of killings decline.

If you grieve for the slain Dallas Police officers, that is perfectly reasonable. They were murdered and taken from their families horrifically. They were human beings, and deserved human dignity in life and even more so now in death. However if you cannot find the courage to extend that respect to the people killed unnecessarily by police, then you are procreating the conditions that led to Dallas.

In reviewing the limited data in The Guardian’s synopses of the individual killings, it’s important to read between the lines, trying to understand why U.S. police are the only police in the world who have to resort to killing so often. The key question in each case is, “Was this the only way?” The answer in the vast majority of cases is no, another way could have been found. Even if it meant temporarily backing off.

Something U.S. police are rarely trained to do. It’s the training that leads to the killing.

The U.S Department of Justice can and must take a leading role, and they must prosecute. Failure to do so will ensure that the cycle of violence continues. Once the police are reminded in no uncertain terms that the taking of human life is not insignificant, then and only then will they apply their intellect and find other ways of addressing these situations.

Further, it is absolutely imperative that we not continue to issue blanket free passes to “our boys (and women) in blue.” By demanding accountability on the part of armed law enforcement officers, we lead them toward job conditions that are more humane for them and for the public that they serve.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

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