Is There A Solution to the Shootings?


My last image before going to bed Monday night was that of a line of police officers lined up against an angry crowd of protesters in Ferguson.  Here we go again.

In 1999 a person of color reaches for his wallet while being detained by police. He is shot and killed.  A young man reaches down to pull up his pants. He is killed by the police. Now we have a shooting in Cleveland. The police weren’t told the “weapon” was a probably a toy.

I’ve read several accounts by experts and journalists who all decry the institutional racism in police departments across the nation. At the same time almost all Americans acknowledge the difficult dilemma police face when they have to make split second decisions with very little information.

One thing I haven’t read is accounts of exactly how police are trained to react in these situations. How many hours are they trained? What kind of role playing do they do? Why shoot to kill? Is there the possibility of using pepper spray or do they have to get too close to the perpetrator? What language could be used to deactivate the fear and misunderstanding? Since it is proven that African Americans are detained more often and shot more often than white assailants, what training is done with officers about that? In the initial confrontations could officers tell the person to NEVER move their hands unless instructed to do so by the officer?  Since women officers have a much higher rate of pacifying people than do men, do we encourage these women officers to do the training and refresher courses? And why are departments having such a hard time recruiting officers of color? What can be changed about that? How much does the over coverage by the media play into this difficulty to recruit?

The day after Ferguson, I was talking with two officers who were in charge of directing the school buses at Playhouse Square. It was quiet in Cleveland the night before with peaceful protests at Public Square. But one officer was clearly angry about the protestors. “If a guy comes at me with a gun pulled, I’m shooting!” I assumed he was going to shot to kill.  Police clearly feel they are under assault even though police officers are indicted in these types of shootings time after time. They must feel their time is coming and they will have little protection under the law.

Everyone is impatient. They want the shootings to stop. They are tired of study after study about the problem with no changes being made. Few of us can see any progress.  What do the friends of relatives of victims want? Are their suggestions being heard? What would they do if someone waved a gun at them? What would they suggest if some seemed to reach for a weapon?  Where are their voices heard? People who are ignored are going to continue to make a way to be heard. Does it have to be with the loss of life?