At what point has someone committed an act so heinous that they deserve the death penalty? Is it when they set off bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, or when they run from the police officer that just pulled them over? Over the past few months and longer, there has been a lot on the news about police officers using excessive force that ends up killing an American citizen. Recently, there was an event where a cop, perused a man who ran from a car he pulled over, shot him multiple times in the back and then planted a taser on him so he could claim he feared for his life. People are saying that, if someone hadn’t been recording this event, the cop would have gotten away with it. I actually wonder if that was the nail in this guy’s coffin. Even with a camera recording, could he have gotten away with it if only he didn’t illegally plant evidence?
In my many discussions on recent issues involving America’s police force, there is one common refrain I hear coming from those who think nothing is going wrong. They say that these people are criminals. They are illegally selling cigarettes. They’ve stolen something from a gas station. They’ve run from police. These acts are against the law.
So what? Does that mean they deserved the death penalty?
I’ve listened to NPR cover the trial of the young man who, along with his brother, planned out an executed the Boston Marathon bombing. In one story, they spoke with many Boston locals about the death penalty and the fact that polls show most citizens of Boston are against the death penalty for this man. For the most part, people seemed to think the crime warranted the death penalty, but also felt the death penalty was wrong. If we’re not sure if someone who committed that violent of a crime should die, how can we claim someone who sells cigarettes illegally, but who is otherwise nonviolent, from a street corner deserves death?
You know what’s really funny to me. Maybe this is just because I grew up in small town Iowa, where there was little diversity, but I know a lot of people who have childhood stories of stealing things, trespassing in areas they weren’t allowed to go and so forth. Sometimes they were caught, but little more happened to them than a verbal reprimand. It’s such a different world from what I see on the television. Is it just that, living in a small town, cops were more likely to know who I was and make a judgement based, not only on my action, but on what they knew about my family?
I guess what I’m getting at is that I think minor crimes committed by these people I have seen die on the news do not call for the death penalty. They simply don’t appear to necessitate deadly force. Frankly, after what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t fault anyone for running from a cop.
I’m not sure what to do about this whole issue, honestly. Body cameras can certainly help, but I think the problem is more systemic, embedded in our society. The problem is that, inevitably, the news will fill hours about what the victim did wrong. Why did he or she run? Why was he or she doing something illegal? Were they doing even more illegal? I think these questions are particular shameful when they accused can’t speak for themselves. Moreover, I think it distracts from the issue. The issue is not that it’s illegal to run from cops, to be late on child support payments or anything else. The issue is that cops are unnecessarily using deadly force.
Our rights are only as good as the rights of the least of us. At the end of the day, I don’t think it would take much for most of us to commit a crime. If your life or the lives of your loved ones are put in enough jeopardy, I imagine there’s very little most of us wouldn’t do. Perhaps more important, any of us can be accused of a crime we didn’t commit. We should feel like the justice system is on the side of the truth and that those involved in law enforcement will withhold judgement until the day of our trial.
As it stands, I’m not sure what I think of law enforcement. Mostly, I think they are good people, but if I saw a police officer approaching me, even if I hadn’t done anything wrong, I would probably fill with fear. At the end of the day, I don’t have to do anything wrong,; I just have to be accused of ding something wrong.
What do you think of the recent news surrounding American’s police departments? What do you think needs to be changed? If a cop approached you right now, would you be unafraid?
Photo Copyright: lovleah / 123RF Stock Photo