While everyone agrees that the po-po probably shouldn’t be on its current citizen-slaughtering rampage, I have yet to see a realistic solution to the problem… until now (self-congratulatory drumroll please).
What The Two Sides Say
Side 1: Hey cops, quit killing unarmed (black) people.
Side 2: Hey people, it’s easy to armchair-quarterback – post-game – a fight-or-flight, running-on-instincts situation when you’re not the one in it.
Back Up And Tell It Right
The problem is obvious. I don’t think anyone denies that we need cops; equally I don’t think anyone denies that that this citizen-killing is completely unacceptable.
The solution, to me, is equally obvious. Before I tell you what it is, a few things to clarify the issue.
First, let’s not be pollyannaish about the effects of going around all day in a heightened state of tension and fear where someone pulling a weapon on you isn’t a fantastical notion but rather an everyday reality. (And if you think I’m just referring to the cops here, think again.)
Second, none of us can know the future, like is that just a – (SPOILER ALERT Scandal fans) – receipt in the guy’s pocket or a gun? Our evolutionary solution to being unable to read the future is to seek out patterns and make best guesses about what might happen next. With law enforcement, it’s called “prejudice” or “profiling” or the like, but behaving as if patterns are applicable to all circumstances is how all of us operate and, as I’ve discussed in my books, is the source of many life problems people face.
Third, as a country, we have laws and an internal agreement that those laws need to be enforced, and that the function of cops is to pull potential criminals off the streets in order to move them through our justice system and be prosecuted or not, jailed or not, as evidence and the law dictates. Bring them to justice, not execute them.
In sum: legally forced encounters between cops and citizens in tense and uncertain circumstances plus, btw, like all animals, we have an extremely strong act-now-think-later self-preservation instinct.
Therefore, training cops to be more sensitive or override their instincts or their racism or whatever, i.e. the soothingly HR-like solutions that have been proposed in the media and which, as anyone who’s worked with millenials can attest (sorry, millenials!), barely function in today’s white collar (no collar?) offices, WILL NOT WORK. They wouldn’t work for you and they won’t work for cops because, when you are scared and when your only sense of what might happen next is a pattern – accurate or not, racist or not – the gun is out and you’re shooting before you’ve thought much about anything at all.
So since you can’t change the evolutionary instinct of the human reaching for the gun, change the one thing you can change.
QED: cops should no longer be able to bear lethal arms.
I’m not suggesting cops behave a la the Robin Williams quote about British police (“Stop. Or I’ll say stop again.”). I’m suggesting cops bear highly-responsive, non-lethal, incapacitating arms.
There is literally no circumstance where cops need to be able to kill people. Really! Not one! Not a hostage standoff, not a murder or robbery in progress, not a gang war, not an anything. Even if the other side is lethally armed to the teeth, cops STILL don’t need to be able to kill them because, unlike with the military where the function is to kill, the function of cops is to incapacitate and bring to justice. In that light, providing cops with lethal weapons is flat-out antithetical to the reason we have police at all.
Telling people to override their evolutionary fight-or-flight instincts is unrealistic bordering on absurd and quite possibly lethal. We’re just people. We will behave within the bounds of evolution, and we have the recent pile of dead, unarmed teens to prove it.
So business technologists out there, have something that’s as wireless and ergonomic as a gun with ammo that moves as fast or faster than a bullet but delivers a non-lethal but incapacitating payload wherever it hits? If so, let me know, because I’ve been looking to make some stock purchases.