I’ve often been asked, not just as the Sheriff of Yuma County, but in general, as a law enforcement officer what I think about the tragedy and aftermath that has happened in Ferguson, Missouri.
For the purposes of this response, we’re going to gloss over the reality that because of the poor decisions of a young man, a law enforcement officer was put in a position to make a split second decision, and the result was a tragic loss of life. Subsequently, many people were manipulated by the intentional agitation of their already thin emotional thresholds.
There are a number of things that come to mind from the many different angles of this incident, but there is one rather glaring reality that stands out above the lessons we all can learn. One cannot see television coverage of this tragic event without hearing some group of protesters/rioters/instigators chanting the phrase initially reported by a now fugitive “witness,” “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” This simple and interestingly catchy phrase is one of the few things about this mess that causes my blood pressure to rise ever so slightly. There are many frustrating and disappointing facts about the incident and more noticeable, some of the responses that are quite bothersome, but they are pretty easy to have anticipated and not produce much of an emotional response from my desk and perspective, but if Michael Brown had actually put his “hands up,” as is being robotically chanted around the country, and took a defensive stance, he would be in jail or out on bond right now, rather than dead, and no one would be talking about this.
Since the public revelation of all the physical evidence and witness statements that indicate he in fact did not put his “hands up,” and rather charged the uniformed law enforcement officer, and any “witness” statements that say otherwise have been either changed or exposed as false, there are some lessons that both the general citizenry can learn, as well as the law enforcement community.
Lessons for citizens (regardless of their genetic melanin concentration):
- Don’t rob a business and assault the business staff in the process.
- Don’t attack a uniformed law enforcement officer in his marked patrol car and attempt to take said officer’s weapon.
- Don’t attempt to flee from the scene of the assault when an officer is ordering you to stop.
- Don’t charge the officer you have just assaulted and attempted to disarm when he has you at gunpoint.
- *Appreciate the value of parents modeling and requiring through consistent discipline, respect for the law, other people, and other’s property.*
Lessons for law enforcement officers:
- Avoid making contacts from inside your patrol car.
- Always consider less lethal options, if and when time allows.
- Take responsibility for your own marksmanship skill. In a lethal force situation, the fewer rounds fired, the less chance of rounds ending up beyond your threat.
- Appreciate the value in extra effort to build positive community relations before you need them.
- Understand that you’ve accepted a career on purpose, in which you will be placed in situations where there is no good answer, and you can be certain you will face scrutiny for the decisions you make. Many times that scrutiny will be uninformed and unfair.
Certainly there is more to say about citizens and the law enforcement response to rioting and protesting, media coverage, race relations, etc., but there is no way around the reality that if “hands up” would have actually happened, the country would be talking about something else, like……..