3.27.2012

Police Accountability – A Truth Glasses Look into Responsible Policing

Use of Deadly Force Authorized
Use of Deadly Force Authorized (Photo credit: Brian Reynolds)

Article by: Scott Hall
            We are all aware of the tragedy in the Trayvon Martin case as is being exploded across our media news outlets, a youth with the perfect day of skittles and sunshine and a very bright future who will be missed by his closest friends and family.  The issue of how much force to be used has always been a concern by citizens who only get to hear the bad side of decisions being made by law enforcement officials, as was the case in the Rodney King beatings and countless other human tragedies besides those aforementioned.  When an officer or law enforcement official makes a decision to draw and use their firearm or defend themselves from harm, it is not something that is
Screenshot of footage of King beaten by LAPD o...
Screenshot of footage of King beaten by LAPD officers on March 3, 1991 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 done without due process of thought, or in English, in police training, should one decide to draw their weapon and use it with deadly force, they know what awaits in the aftermath of such a decision.  In order to understand this concept of accountability of action, we will need our truth glasses and a bit of a beverage to enjoy this look into the laws of policing.


            The idea of police accountability is not a new one, in fact the U.S. Department of Justice (National Institute of Justice) stated in 1988: 
            The accountability of individual police officers is a fundamental issue for police executives. This is fitting: police officers are the public official’s society has authorized even obliged, to use force. Ensuring that police officers use that warrant equitably, legally, and economically on behalf of citizens is at the core of police administration. The enduring concern of police executives to ensure accountability in American policing is a reflection of their professional commitment. Not only is it fitting that a police executive give high priority to ensuring the accountability of police officers, it is essential to surviving as the leader of a police department. Police chiefs continually worry about abuse of authority: brutality; misuse of force, especially deadly force; over-enforcement of the law; bribery; manufacture of evidence in the name of efficiency or success; failure to apply the law because of personal interests; and discrimination against particular individuals or groups

FBI Police charger
FBI Police charger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            The above paragraph was found in a copy published by NIJ (ncjrs.gov) on November of 1988 and is the opening paragraph describing what Administration, Chiefs and Leaders of all law enforcement must do in order to keep the officer safe as well as the public and after 25 years is still a multi-faceted subject that many generations have voiced an opinion upon.  Law enforcement organizations, much like any other organization, have structures and policies in place that allow for full investigations into events such as the Trayvon Martin case, including immediate, interim and long term guidelines.  Discipline comes with any employment situation, whether it is a big business, a local sheriff’s office or the FBI, when certain persons fail to perform to standard or make mistakes, there is a disciplinary rule that is applied and when an officer pulls out their weapon and fires it, protocols that are established must be followed, which will include an official report by the officer who discharged the weapon.
            If this were only that simple, the protocol would be an official review, a possible suspension of the officer, a hearing to determine whether or not deadly force was necessary or warranted and an official decision after a few miscellaneous procedures not mentioned.  This would result in an either thumbs up (the officer did the right thing) or a thumbs down (the officer did the wrong thing).  What we have here is a failure to apply or organize a law correctly and if mishandled will result in “self-defense” being left up to the individual defending it, given a proper set of circumstances, one could possibly go around shooting up the neighborhood and never see one minute of jail time, yes, we are talking about the “grey” area which stems from law enforcement’s approach to community policing.  Take for instance this hypothetical situation; a neighborhood riddled with drugs and thefts decides to invest in a neighborhood watch program and one of the “recruits” sees a drug deal being made during the late hours of the night.
            The perpetrator only has a jacket, a bag and their hand inside the coat pocket and states, “back off or I will kill you” while making gestures of intent to use a “weapon”.  The regulations applying to the watch program’s participant gives them the right to carry a weapon, without proper experience on the street and how to handle this situation, they panic and pull their own weapon firing blindly at the subject, hitting the other person in the vehicle who the perpetrator was making a deal with, instantly killing them. This scares the perpetrator off (whose fake gun never fired a shot). Soon the police arrive and clear the scene without arresting the neighborhood watch person on the spot, nor finding the person who ran away and have only a few witnesses who heard the gunshot. W
ould this person be protected under the law in a different state, without the “self-defense” statutes? 
Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)
            In the Martin case, a simple question of “was deadly force warranted?” has developed into a complexity of racial and political affluences saturated by a frothy media who is focusing on what and not the why.  Deadly force, by definition, is the physical force, under the circumstances it is used, that is capable of causing death or serious injury.  The use of force is generally considered Illegal unless it falls into one of 4 categories, each with its own set of distinct sets of governing items.  Those categories are: Self-Defense, Defense of a Third Party, Crime Prevention and Law Enforcement.  All of these are generally judged by the specific circumstance in the situation and with self defense, deadly force is only allowed when the perpetrator is attempting to use deadly force upon their victim and those specifics vary from state to state which means our next step forward is the deadly force laws of Florida, where Mr. Martin lost his life.
            In Florida, the statute governing the use of deadly force can be found in section 776.013:
(3)  A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
            According to one eyewitness to this crime, Martin at one point was on top of Zimmerman “beating him senseless”.  According to another witness, Zimmerman was the aggressor by following Martin and was also instructed by the dispatcher he was talking to that “it was not necessary to follow the subject; the police were on their way.” We also have Zimmerman’s statement about being attacked while trying to re-enter his vehicle and of course the scenario of going to store to buy skittles (which helps to show the innocence of the life lost.)  Under the law stated above, because the circumstances surrounding the situation were supported by an investigation from the police, showing that indeed Zimmerman was in defense of himself and warranted the use of deadly force, remember “I was in fear for my life” was quoted from Mr. Zimmerman, he was held harmless for his action.
            What makes this case particularly perilous, the fact that there are statements surrounding Mr. Zimmerman’s going door to door, reminding people to be on the lookout for “suspicious young black men”, implicating racial profiling.  Along with a slew of left and right sided statements of people pleading their cases to an open eared press, that are eager to relay the very latest up to date information on who is stepping down and when.  Feeding the some 2 million who signed a petition to convict and investigate further with why and what statements they make, while making the pressure to convict even more volatile and some would say influencing a judiciary outcome where “justice” will be done.  Will there be justice or is this going to end up a political leveraging tool (Mr. President) or worse a focus for citizens to reach yet another blind feverish pitch that will include bias’s and opinions not related to the law or the situation, finger pointing does grow old on the eyes, thank goodness our truth glasses are somewhat resistant.
            So here is what our truth glasses have deciphered.  Mr. Martin was out on a rainy night, his “hoodie” over his head, carrying a bag of skittles back to his original destination.  Along the way, he encountered Mr. Zimmerman.  Some sort of altercation took place after a short series of “looking for trouble” events, where a life was lost and now the whole world is aware of the unfortunate circumstances and questions surrounding the loss.  According to the law in the state where the incident occurred, no crime will be charged against Mr. Zimmerman. This has called for a total review of the particulars of the case and a review of the law, which leaves me only asking more questions.  Will there truly be justice in the outcome?  Will arresting and convicting someone who “was in fear of his own life” satisfy the public’s eyes on the racial portfolio that is being developed or will it take Zimmerman losing his own life to “equal the balance of justice”.  My personal fear is that this law will be an open door to vigilante style justice and many more will die if it is not repealed or adjusted to more specific parameters.
            Citizens of our world do not need truth glasses to see what is truly wrong in this case, the way the law was written and WHY it was written.  It was written so that those who had a knife in their face while being mugged could defend themselves with equal or brute force including death to their attacker.  It was not written so thugs, those with a chip on their shoulders; gangs, vigilantes or profiling officers could have a venue out of deviousness.  When legislature enacts laws, generally it is written due to what society sees as a definite need, in this case, I am not so sure the citizens ever expected this to be a resulting outcome.  My personal condolences to the family who lost their loved one, the friends whose lives were changed because of this tragic event and to the police department who suffered the embarrassment of trying to help its town’s citizens with a watch program that lead to a death.  Never lose faith in the officers and people who are trying to make a difference by keeping things “safe” even if misjudgments arise from them, if anything at all raise the standards of training and hold those who employ them accountable for the right application of law, truth glasses down.
References for further reading and review:
Link used for timeline of events and occurrences in verifying news releases:
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