- - Sunday, December 21, 2014

There is not much left that can be said about the Michael Brown case in Ferguson. Minds have been made up and battle lines drawn.

But this case — and several others — points out a disturbing trend in American policing: the militarization and shoot-first mentality of too many departments and officers today.

Whether or not Darren Wilson did the right thing is something you have already decided. Every piece of evidence you will hear will reinforce your own confirmation bias whether it bolsters or undermines your opinion.

What no one can argue is that it never should have gotten to that point, and there should have been a less permanent solution for Mr. Wilson to enact if his life was truly threatened.

American officers’ first line of defense is the gun. Officers are taught to shoot center mass to put a threat down as soon as possible as it is the biggest and easiest target. Only in a TV show or movie can law enforcement easily shoot the arms and legs of perps.

So when a policeman decides it is time to pull out the gun, his or her training will automatically direct them to a kill shot.

Cops are also trained to try to defuse situations, and by far and large, most do.

Unfortunately, it only takes a select few who cannot handle the adrenaline and stress to make life hell — not simply for themselves but, most importantly, for their victims and the victims’ families.

Most people have never been in war or a truly deadly situation, and that applies to police as well. These are not trained soldiers who learn to deal with adrenaline and stress through combat experience. We cannot expect the Wilsons of the world to slow down, think, and de-escalate if they have never been in enough conflict situations to learn how to handle such stress.

Yet we put them out on the streets with the most lethal weapon possible as their first line of defense.

In doing so, American law enforcement is setting itself up for incidences just like Brown … and Tamir Rice … and John Crawford III … and Levar Jones … and so on and so forth.

In each and every case, the law officer resorted to the deadly force. This is not their training. This should not be the first option.

Obviously, not all cops are racists, and we cannot even truly know the hearts of the officers involved in the shootings mentioned (and unmentioned), but there are ways to prevent even the most corrupt and amoral cops from killing someone, accidentally or not.

Obviously we need to work harder to psychologically screen officers for thoughts and tendencies that could lead to senseless death.

We also need law enforcement agencies to train officers in probabilities. What is the likelihood a routine traffic stop ends in a gunbattle? Practically nil. What is the chance that a 12-year-old kid at the playground is waving a real gun around and is going to shoot to kill? Less than 1 percent. Should you approach such situations prepared to shoot? Absolutely not.

But, most importantly, we need to make the first several options for all standard police be nonlethal.

An officer’s first option should be their brain and the second their mouth. Everything that can be done to de-escalate a situation should be done before a weapon is drawn.

Most police carry stun guns now — that should be their third and fourth option. But that does not mean tazing repeatedly until you kill someone like officers did to Dante Parker. It means using one-and-done cartridges and knowing that each taze can incapacitate a 300-lb. man.

The fifth and sixth options should be rubber bullets and nightsticks.

Only as a last resort should a lethal firearm be used.

It should be similar to the patrol car shotgun — locked up and require a key to use. Knowing that they have to exhaust every possible means of nonlethal force yet still being in danger is the only real justification for pulling out the gun.

And before some of you start hollering that cops should be able to defend themselves if a suspect is armed, remember that police have body armor; the man on the street does not — especially Brown, Rice, Crawford, Jones, etc.

Most people in America — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc. — are law-abiding citizens. No group or person should ever, EVER have to worry that a routine stop could end in death.

Such violence does not just break the contract to “protect and serve” with the black community; it shatters it for all Americans.

Rather than focusing on hatred and subjective realities, let’s do something that protects and serves police and citizens alike. Enforcing the demilitarization of regular police officers can only help begin to heal the wounds that have been inflected on regular folks of all races.

• Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee Online Magazine.


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