Opinion Article by Michael J. Zicolello, Esq.
Black Lives Matter. . . All Lives Matter. . . Blue Lives Matter.
With all the arguing over which lives matter, we never really seem to address the real question… Does someone’s life matter more?
Due to the nature of law enforcement work, there are always going to be scenarios where a police officer confronts an unknown potentially dangerous situation, during which he must rely on his training, experience, and intuition to make split-second decisions. In less time than it took you to read the last word, he may have to decide whether to fire his weapon to save himself from possible death or serious injury.
It is a moment no police officer ever wants to confront.
An officer can act in accordance with every bit of his training and end up shooting an unarmed individual if the officer makes an honest mistake.
Maybe it was a toy weapon, or just a metal object that looked like a gun. Basically, if an officer has a legitimate “belief” that he is in danger of grievous bodily injury, he has the green light to shoot. And every single law enforcement officer is taught that when shooting, you shoot to kill – double tap – two shots, center mass.
Under these parameters, which are well-settled, someone gets to decide whose life matters more, and that person is the person wearing blue.
Police all take an oath to Protect and Serve. However, they are also continually instructed that officer safety is first. Can you have both? Is it possible for an officer put his safety first AND Protect and Serve? Members of the Secret Service are trained to protect and serve the President.
Are they trained to put their own safety first? Of course not. Instead, they are trained to take a bullet to insure the safety of the President.
The safety of the person you are protecting and serving is the same person whose safety is first.
So, who are the police supposed to be protecting and serving? All of us, that’s who. Every member of the community. Even those they intend to arrest. I do believe police officers understand this fact.
However, this is an impossible task when also given the directive of officer safety first. If you programmed these instructions into a computer, it would result in a catastrophic meltdown. Something must take priority. Sometimes it has to be a choice between “officer safety” or “protecting and serving.” You can’t have both in every situation.
Those in law enforcement have voluntarily chosen a career which potentially places them in perilous situations. The officer knows this. It is why he puts on a bullet proof vest before starting his shift. The driver who is shot and killed reaching for his registration in the glove box, which also contains a black metal flashlight, because the officer “believed” the driver was reaching for a gun, did not choose to put his life on the line on a daily basis.
While All Lives Matter is a wonderful slogan, the unfortunate reality is that in these types of scenarios we, as a society, must choose whose life matters more. As it stands right now, the officer’s life matters more. But why? And should it?
In our criminal justice system you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of your peers. Why then do we place the irreversible penalty of near certain death resulting from the honest mistake of an officer on a person who we know, albeit after the fact, did not intend to harm the officer.
We have decided, for some reason, to err on the side of officer safety in these situations. We have done this despite the fact that every other gear and cog of our justice system is designed to protect the potentially innocent individual member of the public.
This outcome is contrary to our criminal justice system, which is based on the tenet that it is better that one-hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man go to prison.
This is not an easy subject for discussion. It seemingly pits the public against those who have volunteered to protect and serve.
Law enforcement is a noble and dangerous profession. In the endeavor to limit the danger to officers, we have unwittingly increased the greatest of dangers, death, for the public. By any appropriate measure of what it means to “Protect and Serve”, the dangers associated with being a law enforcement officer should be borne by that officer, and not the public he has sworn to Protect and Serve.
Shouldn’t we require that an officer’s actions in scenarios where they fire their weapon be based on facts and truths, rather than beliefs?
Shouldn’t they have to “know” that the person intends them harm, rather than simply “believe” it?
Some may think the burden unfair, but shouldn’t the oath to Protect and Serve the public require nothing less?
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