We need to confront this double standard about cops

We love telling ourselves sweet lies, especially the one that we really believe all lives matter. We've told ourselve...

Posted: Mar 6, 2018 4:42 PM
Updated: Mar 6, 2018 4:42 PM

We love telling ourselves sweet lies, especially the one that we really believe all lives matter. We've told ourselves this lie so frequently we deem police officers cowards when they refuse to shoot to protect lives other than their own, and heroes when they kill primarily to protect themselves.

David French, a National Review Online writer, inadvertently made that point in a recent piece:

"Let's be very clear. Every single person who puts on a uniform and pledges to protect their community -- either in combat overseas or under fire at home -- is indicating by their choice that they are willing (not wanting, willing) to lay down their lives. That is their job. When the crisis hits, that is their purpose. It's what we expect of soldiers in environments that are far more intense. It's what we expect of cops when the shots ring out. If you have doubts about your ability to do that job, don't put on the uniform."

It's why so many believe the officers who failed to enter the high school in Parkland, Florida were cowardly and dishonored their badges. They should have been willing to "lay down their lives."

But French and others don't want cops to sacrifice themselves when confronted with murky situations involving, disproportionately, young black men. In those situations, officers should protect themselves first. Juries have sent that message as well, as they failed to convict a North Charleston police officer who was caught on video shooting a fleeing man in the back (that officer later pleaded guilty to federal charges); an officer who shot an Arizona man who was literally on his knees begging for his life; and the Minnesota officer who killed Philando Castile.

Their argument is a simple one: that some lives matter so much, police officers should be willing to "lay down their lives" to save them, but that others are so disposable an officer should not wait an extra second to determine the person really is an imminent threat. That logic seems to rest on determining just which lives deserve the benefit of doubt before being snuffed out. There were innocent civilians inside that school who needed saving, which is why we wanted the cops to act. But the man whose "crime" is speeding or acting erratically in public is also innocent; he certainly doesn't deserve the death penalty. Why isn't saving his life worth the risk, too?

Like the jury that found Betty Shelby not guilty, French believed the former Oklahoma police officer's actions were reasonable when she shot and killed Terence Crutcher. Shelby was accompanied by other well-armed colleagues as she approached Crutcher, who had just spent a considerable amount of time holding his hands high above his head as he walked back to his stalled vehicle. Because he didn't stop when Shelby demanded and finally dropped his hands to maybe reach towards the driver's side window of his SUV, Shelby was right to shoot Crutcher, French and other police defenders have argued.

Fast forward to Parkland. Police officers knew someone was shooting up a high school. They likely didn't know how many people were inside, if it was a lone gunman, or 10. They didn't know if the halls had been littered with homemade explosives. Still, there's a persuasive case to be made that those officers had a responsibility to go in despite the obvious risk. Such a response was supposed to have been one of the major changes in police training since the 1999 Columbine massacre, when police officers didn't immediately enter the school.

But an equally compelling case can be made that the Parkland officers were making a decision more reasonable than the one Shelby made, if, as has been argued repeatedly the past few years, police officers have the right, and the responsibility, to make sure they make it home alive at the end of their shift every night.

French argued that Shelby's killing of Crutcher was reasonable because of the infinitesimally small possibility Crutcher could have managed to reach into his SUV, retrieve a weapon and immediately turn around and shoot the small contingent of officers on the scene, even though they had their weapons drawn and Crutcher boxed in. That risk was supposedly so great, Shelby had every right to shoot an unarmed man instead of waiting a beat, or even holstering her weapon and diving for his legs to tackle him or telling a colleague to do so.

Yes, it would have taken a bit of courage to do that, but not nearly the courage needed to enter a high school where death was literally in the air. Facing a high probability of harm, officers must ignore their fear, steady their nerves and do their jobs well to save lives in a middle- to upper-class community. Facing a low probability of harm, officers should give into their fear and kill unarmed men.

Some gun rights advocates don't seem to understand, or care, that in a country saturated with guns, police officers are right to assume everyone is packing. But that reasonable assumption is at crosscurrents with bias -- implicit and otherwise -- in a way that leads police officers to more quickly presume black men and women are threats, even when they aren't.

It is laughable to argue an officer should go into a potential firefight -- knowing only that the suspect is using a high-powered killing machine -- because that's his job, but shouldn't be certain before firing his weapon during a traffic stop. It's laughable, that is, if we really believed all lives mattered. Apparently, we don't.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 681613

Reported Deaths: 8076
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1403921855
Ramsey58542944
Dakota52093497
Anoka48037479
Washington30637309
Stearns24839240
St. Louis20269335
Scott19626145
Wright18499163
Olmsted15792110
Sherburne13522100
Carver1206952
Clay915295
Rice9104120
Blue Earth866347
Crow Wing7797102
Kandiyohi744188
Chisago711658
Otter Tail666691
Benton6439101
Mower558038
Winona554452
Goodhue550080
Douglas535484
Itasca516671
Beltrami504672
McLeod501463
Steele500921
Isanti490170
Morrison467563
Nobles448650
Becker434559
Polk433675
Freeborn429538
Lyon394254
Carlton389559
Nicollet377647
Pine373726
Mille Lacs354360
Brown346443
Cass343035
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Todd321734
Meeker304749
Waseca288625
Martin261933
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Hubbard232241
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Murray115110
Stevens112211
Marshall103518
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Mahnomen6819
Grant6718
Lincoln6524
Norman6509
Kittson53322
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Red Lake4777
Traverse4215
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Cook2120

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 432122

Reported Deaths: 6339
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk67341672
Linn25698353
Scott22828261
Black Hawk19121334
Woodbury16940233
Johnson1659690
Dubuque14547218
Pottawattamie13058183
Dallas12746102
Story1187148
Warren685993
Webster6304102
Cerro Gordo6212102
Clinton620097
Des Moines594482
Muscatine5781108
Unassigned57410
Marshall564280
Sioux542775
Jasper516575
Lee511078
Wapello4993128
Buena Vista472942
Marion449083
Plymouth434083
Henry339940
Jones331158
Bremer325365
Crawford321644
Carroll317053
Washington315754
Benton312656
Boone308736
Mahaska275453
Dickinson270846
Kossuth251471
Jackson246044
Clay245729
Tama238273
Delaware234643
Buchanan233938
Hardin230847
Page221624
Cedar220525
Fayette220345
Wright217641
Winneshiek215937
Hamilton211752
Harrison198875
Clayton194458
Madison193820
Butler188836
Floyd187742
Mills185224
Poweshiek181036
Cherokee179440
Iowa176425
Allamakee176252
Lyon174441
Jefferson169138
Calhoun168313
Hancock167335
Winnebago164231
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Cass155556
Louisa154949
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Union144237
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Guthrie138132
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