Violence, Death, Grief


On Wednesday night I went to bed after reading about Alton Sterling. I woke up 6 hours later to Philando Castile. This morning it’s Dallas.

Add to this the terrorist acts in Baghdad, Turkey, and Bangladesh. The violence, death, and grief are relentless.

On Jezebel, Kara Brown asks, “Am I Going to Write About Murdered Black People Forever?

…I can write. I can write again and again for as long as the this nation piles up black bodies. But when you’ve just watched a man bleed to death after a routine traffic stop while a child sits in the back seat, it sure as hell doesn’t feel like much.

I’ve been thinking a lot about an article I read on Why American Cops Kill So Many Compared To European Cops. They highlight two major differences: centralized training and a focus on de-escalation.

“…most European countries conform to the European Convention on Human Rights, which impels its 47 signatories to permit only deadly force that is “absolutely necessary” to achieve a lawful purpose. Killings excused under America’s “reasonable belief” standards often violate Europe’s “absolute necessity” standards.

For example, the unfounded fear of Darren Wilson – the former Ferguson cop who fatally shot Michael Brown – that Brown was armed would not have likely absolved him in Europe. Nor would officers’ fears of the screwdriver that a mentally ill Dallas man Jason Harrison refused to drop.

In Europe, killing is considered unnecessary if alternatives exist. For example, national guidelines in Spain would have prescribed that Wilson incrementally pursue verbal warnings, warning shots, and shots at nonvital parts of the body before resorting to deadly force. Six shots would likely be deemed disproportionate to the threat that Brown, unarmed and wounded, allegedly posed.”

Here’s the thing: when a police officer shoots someone and is investigated, “reasonable belief” puts the victim on trial. How scary was the person involved? Was it reasonable for the officer to be frightened? Mix in racism and the U.S.’s relaxed gun laws, and in most cases, the officer will be exonerated.

However, if we consider “absolute necessity,” the actions of the trained professional come under scrutiny. The trial isn’t about the victim but whether the officer did everything possible to arrest the person without killing him. This is, after all, what is supposed to happen: a citation or ticket or arrest and a trial. People are not supposed to die at the hands of police or in their custody.

We should never accept shooting first and asking questions later. Our goals should be empathy, communication, and community, and our law enforcement should get the training and support needed to defuse potentially volatile situations. We cannot survive constant, mutual fear.

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
All Rights Reserved