I’ve left little doubt as to how I view the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Others disagree, with a heavy dose of “cop perspective” that an outsider can’t appreciate. To find oneself on the business end of a threat to one’s life tends to weigh heavily on right and wrong, and the fine line between kill or be killed doesn’t make for an easy choice.
But whether Cleveland police Officer Timothy Loehmann was a killer or a cop invoking the First Rule of Policing is a matter of law, for better or worse. My analysis of the law of Graham v. Connor is that it’s for the worst. The law permits a cop who pre-emptively perceives, through his magic cop voodoo, a deadly threat to kill first. It’s very protective of police lives. It’s a death warrant for everyone else. It’s bad law.
Yet, the backlash to the twin reports rationalizing a needless killing went orthogonal, abandoning law altogether:
But the reports show exactly what’s wrong with the dialogue surrounding police shootings. Instead of asking whether Loehmann’s actions were ethical, moral, or best practices, the conversation immediately shifts to whether they were legal. But legality doesn’t tell us anything about whether the shooting was preventable or acceptable — and that’s really what we should care about.
The commission of a crime, or a righteous shoot, is, and must be, exclusively a question of law. German Lopez’s swan dive into feelz, and bizarre contention that there is something wrong with “the conversation immediately shift[ing] to whether they were legal,” is precisely the sort of pandering to the pathologically ignorant that could make this tragedy even worse than it already is.
In the case of Loehmann, it’s easy to see how he could reasonably perceive a threat: He thought Rice was older, and that Rice reached for a real gun, so he thought he needed to use deadly force to eliminate the threat.
But the Rice case shows exactly what’s wrong with focusing too much on the legal issues.
The substitution of feelings for reason, of the vagaries of “ethics, morality and best practices” for law, is certainly something that a great many people will find appealing. They gush their feelings of right and wrong, and why shouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t we applaud them when we, when I, agree with their outcome even if the path by which they got there is repugnant?
The error of this mush-mindedness is made clear by this disconnect:
Another way to put it, as criminal justice writer Radley Balko wrote in theWashington Post, is whether these shootings should be deemed acceptable by society even if they are legal:
Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.
So the concern isn’t really whether the Rice shooting was legal.
No, no, no. That’s the opposite of what Radley was saying. What he wrote is that when the law is wrong, change the law. He does not suggest that when we don’t like the outcome, then we should ignore the law and go with whatever comports with our feelings.
Among the most abhorrent concepts is the end justifies the means. That’s how cops justify lying on the stand to make sure the guy they know is guilty gets convicted. That’s why cops feel no qualms about killing someone who didn’t deserve to die so that they made it home for dinner that night. That’s why Tamir Rice is dead.
And so it’s better when German Lopez plays the exact same game, except with his outcome in place of Loehmann’s? Putting aside the obvious problem that perceptions of “justice” provide no measure of right or wrong, each of us having our own and each of us certain that our view of “justice” is right and anyone who sees it differently is at least wrong, and likely evil to boot, this swaps the rule of law for the tyranny of the majority.
Here’s the bad news, kidz. Most people think sufficiently well of the cops as to support the idea that, if they fear deadly harm, they should kill first. Ever notice that a dead cop makes the front page, but a dead non-cop is rarely mentioned except when circumstances are extreme? There is a reason for that. People believe that cops’ lives are special. At least more special than anyone else’s.
So if you’re going to promote the feelz view of right and wrong, don’t be surprise to not only be on the losing side of the deal, but expect things to be far, far worse than they are now. The law provides lines that can be viewed by all, rules upon which right and wrong can be known in advance, and condemned when crossed. Feelz provides, well, an argument over which flavor of ice cream is better, vanilla or chocolate. Nobody wins an argument about feelz.
Graham v. Connor is unduly protective of law enforcement’s right to kill, based upon a phony construct of objectivity that relies on the magic powers of police. It forfeits non-cop lives to claimed fears of cops as dictated by others who share their magic powers. It doesn’t matter what the public sees, as we lack the magic power to see things through the eyes of the most fearful cop possible.
The law should change. A true objective test, based on the reasonable person rather than the reasonable cop apologist, would be a start. But forget the law? Throwing it out in favor of “ethics, morality and best practices,” reduces the outcome to mob rule. And the mob isn’t your friend either.