America’s Traumatic Web - Charlotte - Another Police Involved Shooting
No description of the events so far that occurred between Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot to death, and the police officer who did the shooting in the Charlotte justifies Mr. Scott’s death. There is no report of him menacing the police with a pistol - a pistol he's reported by the police to have been carrying, the same one they reportedly recovered at the scene - nor is there any report of Mr. Scott making untoward threats towards them - he was quite potentially just resisting an unlawful order - not a capital crime, though too many have been capitally punished for this same non-criminal offense, whether they were armed or unarmed, disobeying orders or not, as we saw just recently in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Terence Crutcher was killed by a crowd of police officers as a frightened police chopper pilot watched over what appeared to be a blatant act of criminal violence and a heinous misuse of police power. Both incidents involve police officers killing a black man, but in Charlotte we have a black police officer doing the shooting. So the question must be posed again, in some relation to the Ferguson-Effect: How many of these fatal incidents are being perpetuated by bias based on subjective fears on both sides more than bias based on any other objective external factor?
Perhaps the description of events in Charlotte will change or with time find refinement, but until then the police department's argument seems to rest solely on the perception of possible violence by the man that was killed; on the perception of fear. Their description of him getting out of and then getting back into an automobile with a pistol in hand seems to imply both indecision and aggression, describing a potentially dangerous situation without identifying any specific threat. This appears to be the police's prerogative by North Carolina law in so far as it applies to fear of being assaulted by someone, but this isn't just the police's prerogative - this might well have been the motive behind the man who reportedly acting strangely, and threateningly. As one UNC School of Government article sites,
"The basic pattern jury instruction for simple assault is N.C.P.I. – Crim. 208.40. It defines an assault as “an overt act or an attempt, or the unequivocal appearance of an attempt, with force and violence, to do some immediate physical injury to the person of another, which show of force or menace of violence must be sufficient to put a person of reasonable firmness in fear of immediate bodily harm.”'
With so many recent high profile police shootings and much of the media devoted to narratives that revolve around them; narratives that echo the accusations ad infinitum without ever getting too deeply into any investigations of events for the purposes of a factual resolution (whether or not there’s any resolution morally or legally) there's ample research to suggest that many people in America are caught in these cycles of personal and vicarious trauma, and that they might be triggered at the very sight of a police officer - that an officer's presence alone simply presents a threat sufficient to warrant the traumatized to react - justifiably or not - to consider their own self-defense as a matter of simple proximity to the perceived threat. This presents a problem of discretion to both sides of these potential conflicts, but by definition people suffering from compulsive conditions often have little control of their discretion or discernment.
Herein we see what might be the root of some of America's most profound domestic policy failures - and yet this can't all be foisted only on the Federal levels with its decades old, failed War on Drugs and various mandates of police force escalation taught in federal training programs that have contributed to weaponizing some local departments – too many local police department have given themselves over to being revenue generating vehicles that take explicit advantage of minorities and the poor, making themselves effectively highwaymen preying on small groups and those who have little means to protect themselves financially. Would you be wary of roads frequented by badged and uniformed rogues? This twisted expression of government power led to some of the alienation in the people of Ferguson, Missouri, whose police force was targeting them. I grew up in Ladue, Missouri, a place that's known in some circles for the Ladue-Effect wherein data demonstrated that local police disproportionately targeted minority drivers passing through Ladue, not unlike what was being done later in Ferguson. In some ways, the Ladue-Effect contributed to the development of the Ferguson-Effect – blow-back from bad police practices that eventually force the police to pull back and allow crime to go unchallenged. The data backs up one former Ladue Police Chief who was willing to go on record admitting that he'd been ordered to profile black motorists. His then mayor, former mayor Irene Holmes, explained how she wanted things done with a graphic example that he described to CBS' St. Louis affiliate,
"There were four blacks in the car and the officers pulled them out and she got very excited. ‘That's what we want, that's what we want to see. Pull them out, get them handcuffed and let their friends, brothers or whoever connected to 'those people' can see what happens to blacks and that we don't want them here."
The same CBS article published in May, 2015 described his mandate in stark terms,
"Larry White was the Ladue Chief before [current Police Chief Rich Wooten]. As police chief of Ladue from 2008-2010, he says then-mayor Irene Holmes encouraged him to target blacks, but ignore DWI cases involving wealthy white Ladue residents."
Chief White was addressing the problem, and even brought the driving-while-black stops down 30%. He was fired two years into his job as a reformer and while he sued for wrongful termination, his suit was dismissed. As a former resident of Ladue, I can state quite unequivocally that this practice was going on as far back as the late 1980's, and while I have so many examples of biased application of law that this essay could have been written solely on that topic, there’re numerous examples nation-wide that these practices predate the lives of nearly everyone suffering this misapplication of the law.
Which brings us back to Charlotte and the questions still surrounding the shooting: If someone has spent nearly a whole life time in fear of uniformed officers of the law, whether their fear is based on threats of bodily harm or simple misapplication of the law, the fear is as real to them as the fear that some officers must have when approaching situations filled with potential threats. Rationally speaking, the difference here is one of training and intent that squarely places the onus of understanding on the shoulders of those who have volunteered upon their honor to,
"… never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the Constitution, my community, and the agency I serve. So help me God."
This oath is well kept by so many officers that those violators often stand-out in contrast to a sea of goodly blue. And while some have said recently, in the wake of so many high profile police involved shootings (whether as victim themselves or as aggressors) that police officers have too many other responsibilities to have to bother with psychology, social work, or being a therapist to the public. There are even groups calling for an end to local policing all together in favor of UN policing models as a response to these high profile police involved shootings - this seems like foolishness incarnate: It’s hard enough to hold local officials to account, much less national ones, but the idea of holding unelected, unaccountable, transnational bureaucrats to account for every particular locality under their umbrella is a flight of fancy. Every encounter a police officer has is a personal one - an extremely ‘local’ one - not one managed by what some Mayor, Governor, President, or UN mandates no matter how benign or malevolent their policies may be. Police Officers have no choice given their profession but to encounter the sane and crazy alike, face to face, not to mention possibly struggling inside of the prolonged traumatic effects of their own professional experiences. Those that take their oaths seriously, and thankfully many do, will arm themselves with more than guns for their own sake and for the sake of that ‘public trust’ they vow to keep.