Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Getting Away With Murder

The US police kill more civilians every year than any other wealthy country. In 2019 alone, American law enforcement has killed 1004 people. Whereas Argentinian, Canadian, and Danish police have respectfully killed 92, 35 and 0 people in the same year.

Why does American law enforcement use so much deadly force?

For many reasons. The most prominent being, US police officers rarely get indicted for murdering civilians.

Convictions are even rarer.

In the last 15 years, over 100 police officers have been arrested for murder or manslaughter as a result of an on-duty shooting. Merely a third of the officers have been convicted. And of that third, only four officers were convicted of murder—the rest were found guilty of a lesser offence.

How do these murderers consistently fall through the cracks of the justice system?

Firstly, district attorneys—the government prosecutors—are discouraged from pursuing charges against police. Secondly, most people think the boys in blue are their friends and refuse to put a ‘good guy’ behind bars.

But most importantly, the use-of-force standards set by the Supreme Court in the ‘80s make it very difficult to prosecute policemen. If a policeman thinks the suspect “poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,” deadly force is allowed.

The problem is: how do you define a threat? If an officer thinks he’s in danger, the law states he can legally pump you full of lead. Even if you were standing in the doorway of your own home turning a screwdriver between your fingers—the officers who shot Jason Harrison were not indicted.

Even if it turns out your gut was wrong—and the 12-year-old boy you shot was in fact holding a toy gun—saying you felt threatened at the time is enough to keep you out of jail. Which is an almost bulletproof defence normal citizens don’t have. 

And for good reason. Although policemen aren’t better than other civilians, cops do carry a different burden. Where most people run away from danger, cops are told to find it.

So it’s not strange if officers feel less safe. Neither is it strange to give them the legal freedom to protect themselves on the job.

What is strange, however, is when this legal freedom annually leads to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. And that sticking body cameras to police uniforms significantly drops use of force incidents.

Deadly force isn’t supposed to be a license to kill.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach