From faraway India, I have been watching the seemingly endless stream of videos from the US, showing police killings of blacks. And yesterday I read about how sports personalities like Lebron James and Serena Williams worry about their sons and nephews having to face the police on the road. It’s an eye opener to the kind of scary world that blacks in US are living in.
Other places like the war torn Middle East or drug trafficking centres like Mexico or even the volatile Indian border with Pakistan, may be a lot more violent. But the omnipresence of camera phones in the US have made ‘black lives matter’ far more visible and put it in the global spotlight.
The thing that puzzles me about these shootings is why do the police shoot to kill? Why not fire warning shots in the air? Why not shoot for the legs so as to injure rather than kill? Why not rush to give the wounded suspect first aid after an unavoidable shootout so they don’t bleed to death? And finally, why is the same scenario being replayed, day after day?
I think fear is the key. To me, it feels like the basic human instinct for self preservation is kicking in. The police seem to feel that if they don’t kill the suspect first, he’s likely to start shooting and injure them grievously, or maim them for life, or even kill them. Even an injured suspect could have a hidden weapon that he might use on his would-be rescuer. So the cops are more likely to let a wounded suspect bleed to death, than go to his aid.
But why are blacks being targeted? Probably because blacks are perceived as violent and dangerous by default. Size does not matter because in the all-pervasive gun culture of the US, any suspect, big or small, could be carrying a deadly weapon, which automatically makes them a dangerous threat. Police in India don’t fear the man on the street in this way. Probably because it’s not easy for the common man in India to get a gun.
So how do you change the ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude of the US lawman?
Obviously, the root of the problem is the perception that a black man is dangerous. As long as this perception exists, cops will tend to be a lot more trigger happy when they face a black suspect. This needs to change, but that is not going to happen overnight.
The question is what else can be done in the meanwhile to avoid the police shootings of blacks escalating out of control.
I think the first step is take care of that human instinct for self preservation. by ensuring a policeman’s safety. If a cop does not perceive himself to be in danger, he’s less likely to shoot. Every policeman on the street needs to be given bullet proof jackets and other protective gear that SWAT teams and soldiers have. The safer they feel, the less likely they are to start shooting.
The second step is to give the police more options on how to deal with suspects, other than shooting to kill. Right now, the police have tasers but it doesn’t seem to be too useful. Then there is the standard police technique of approaching suspects with drawn guns and yelling instructions at them in tense, loud voices. This can confuse mentally challenged or intoxicated individuals who are not in their right senses. They will feel threatened, inevitably panic, be unable to follow instructions, and end up getting shot.
Here in India, even wild animals have a better chance of surviving an encounter with the law. The first level of handling a wild animal is to shoot it with a sedative dart. Once the drug takes effect, the animal is carted off to wherever it came from. The important thing is no one gets killed.
My question is why not do the same with humans? I know my suggesting this may seem outrageous. But the fact is that when sedative darts are the first weapon of choice, a policeman can avoid having to engage in a direct confrontation with the suspect. He can keep a safe distance between himself and the suspect, take shelter behind something and avoid putting himself in harm’s way. So he is less likely to go into ‘Kill or be killed’ mode.
My suggestion to use sedative dart guns is just a thought starter, and not likely to be acceptable to the public. But that does not disprove my contention, which is if you can make the policeman feel he’s not in much danger himself, he’s less likely to kill. If we agree on this, then experts in the field can come up with far better solutions than my dart gun.
It’s worth thinking about, no?