As the Christmas season, and spirit, begin to fade, it’s appropriate to think of the preciousness, many would say sanctity, of every human life. It’s a subject largely ignored in the nationwide debate surrounding the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others.
Only the most callous and depraved mind would disagree with the moral imperative to value humankind. Religions of many beliefs, from Christianity to Judaism to Buddhism to true Islam and others, proclaim the sanctity of life. One of the Ten Commandments is a proclamation against murder.
Children at an early age learn the Golden Rule to treat others as you would like them to treat you, covering the most simple kindnesses to not take the life of another human being.
Our social structure embraces kindness to others and helping the needy. Organizations too numerous to name are dedicated to humanitarian purposes, sharing their resources and protecting human lives.
First defenders selflessly risk great bodily harm and many pay the final price to protect and defend those in danger. How many ordinary citizens rush into burning buildings to rescue people they do not know and otherwise jeopardize their lives to help others in distress?
These many manifestations of a fundamental belief in the preciousness or sanctity of human life are often betrayed, however, in confrontations between individuals and law enforcement personnel. Even the most minor offense somehow escalates into a violent and often fatal encounter. Michael Brown was walking in a street; Eric Garner was accused of selling single cigarettes. Both were guilty to some extent of resisting arrest, but should they have died as a consequence?
It’s not the purpose of this column to argue the facts and law in these cases. The questions here are, simply, why do such killings happen and how can future recurrences of the tragic and senseless outcomes be avoided?
In most cases, both the police officer(s) and the victim bear some responsibility for the escalation of a misdemeanor into the serious injury or death of one of the parties.
It’s simplistic and a truism to say the perpetrator should not have committed the offense in the first place and should have submitted to the officer’s command. These are not white-collar crimes. The accused usually is uneducated, of poor economic status and is of a minority race. That statement does not excuse the accused‘s behavior; it’s a statement of fact. Changing those facts is a complicated, generational, societal task of improving education, creating economic opportunity and eliminating racial discrimination.
Police officers, however, are trained professionals. Improving their psychological and sociological knowledge will enable officers to understand the situation better, avoid over-responding and calm the suspect. Increasing racial diversity of law enforcement personnel to comport with area demographics is critically important. William Bratton, the New York City police commissioner, implemented these programs in the Los Angeles police department and proved their effectiveness in a timely manner.
The police killings of unarmed suspects of minor offenses, most often young black men, are tragic. Unfortunately, but realistically, the near-term responsibility for stopping most such unnecessary takings of a human life must rest with the police.
Nothing in this column relates to the recent murders of two New York police officers. Those vicious, unjustified homicides in apparent revenge for the deaths of Brown and Garner are condemned as heinous criminal acts.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aid and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.