At Fault Lines, Greg Prickett wrote that even the cops at PoliceOne weren’t buying.
When a police officer shoots someone, like Officer Phillip Hancock of the Opelika, Alabama Police Department shot Airman Michael Davidson of Texas in 2014, you would expect that the PoliceOne group would be firmly in Hancock’s corner. Surprisingly, they are not, even though both the U.S. District judge and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of Hancock. There is something wrong with our legal system when the everyday street police officers say that a shooting was bad, yet the courts absolve the officer of any liability.
A bit of insight one gains through the eyes of a cop is that Phillip Hancock, the shooter, appeared to have his gun in “low ready” position. In other words, before Davidson, on active duty in the Air Force, did anything, Hancock was so deathly afraid that he was ready to kill.
For what’s terribly wrong with putting a gun in the hands of this coward Hancock, read Greg’s post. For why the 11th Circuit backed the coward Hancock, look no further than the reasonably scared cop rule.
After careful consideration and review of a video recording of the shooting, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Davidson, we conclude that a reasonable officer in Hancock’s position would have feared for his life.
The holding says all it needs to say, both about the law and about cops. The problem is that Graham v. Connor allows for any colorable claim of fear to suffice. But as Fault Lines contributor and police training sergeant, Lou Hayes, suggested, the problem isn’t the law. It’s the cop.
People understand me when I say I want cops who have been in fights.
This will strike some as counterintuitive, exactly the opposite of what we might want in a cop to avoid putting a gun into the hands of a coward like Hancock. Don’t we want more peaceful, more gentle, more empathetic cops?
These are all nice words, the sorts of words in which one would take comfort that an officer more empathetic toward others would be less inclined to shoot, to kill. We’re told that. We often think that as well. But Lou made a very serious point: Who is more likely to be easily frightened, threatened?
Lou’s reaction came out of a discussion about fragile young people, for whom words are terribly traumatic as they’ve never endured the pain of sticks and stones. Much as it may be hard to believe, cops are people too, and raised in the same culture as the rest of us. Just as others “literally shake” upon hearing words that are no longer “allowed,” they too are raised in a society where mommy has made absolutely certain their knee will never get skinned, no punch will graze their nose, no physical pain will ever be suffered.
They are ill-equipped to face a threat of actual harm. They are so unprepared that fear overcomes them at the mere possibility, not even probability, that harm could befall them. We’ve raised wimps, and wimps have joined the police department. We’ve put guns in their hands, and we’re shocked that they’ve used them out of fear.
There is little doubt that the coward, Hancock, felt subjective fear when he shot Davidson. There’s no suggestion that he was jonesing for a shooting or had some beef with Davidson. He was afraid. The cause of his fear was an unknown black object in Davidson’s upraised hand. Was it a gun? Something else? Something dangerous?
Hancock, the coward, wasn’t about to wait to find out, even though his gun was out in low ready position. Had Hancock not been a coward, his gun would not have been out. Had Hancock been capable of thinking beyond his immediate fear, he might have taken actions other than shooting. Standing behind his patrol car, for example, with his gun aimed just in case.
But he didn’t. He was ready to kill and at the first hint that there might be a potential threat, he shot.
Lou’s idea, that a cop who has “been in fights” will be capable of handling the stress and fear without shooting before he knows that an actual threat exists, will be a better cop. It may not make for a perfect cop, but at least it won’t be a cop who will shake in his boots at the slightest hint of danger.
Or will it?