Dallas Police Chief David Brown has been talking a lot over the last few days about community policing, a combination of strategies designed to build trust between the police and the people whose lives they patrol. What he doesn’t say in public is something that I know he knows. I know he knows it, because I know he’s a cop.
That’s this: Sure, the rookie walks out of his last day in the training academy with his or her head and heart full of community policing, the need to treat people with respect, the need to give the citizen the benefit of the doubt as long as possible and, if that encounter does become violent in spite of those efforts, the need to control the violence and keep it within a trained and learned gradient of appropriate response.
Right. That’s what they know their first day on the job, before they know anything. But I also know that the chief knows, because he has to know, what happens next.
The minute that car door slams on them the first time, the trainer, the senior cop who rides with the rookie to teach how it’s really done, reaches over there, grabs the rookie by the shirt and tells him to put all that community policing academy crap right out of his mind.
I paraphrase here, but this is pretty close to what experienced cops have told me they say to rookies on that first day: “If you go around respecting everybody and giving everybody the benefit of the doubt like they taught you in the academy, you are going to get yourself killed. Way worse than getting yourself killed, you are going to get me killed.
“So I am going to teach you how to approach people, and if you see me trying to intimidate the juice out of somebody right out of the chute, you damn well are going to get out of the car and start doing some intimidating with me.”
Why? Well, you and I can’t really be there and see what cops see from their point of view, but since everybody is talking about videos anyway, I would suggest we all get some idea by looking at the videos that cops look at when they Google police shootings. I urge you to do that. Google, “Cops getting shot.” Here are just a couple of samples: This one and this one. In both of these videos, cops get shot because they came on soft, treated somebody with too much respect, gave the person too much benefit of the doubt, and then that person pulled a gun and shot them.
If the cop doesn’t look at those videos herself, her spouse or parent or kid does. The horrific nightmare of getting shot in the face by some vermin hangs over every cop’s life and every cop’s family like a bear in the woods, a thing that has to be pushed back every day in order for the cop or the cop’s loved ones to have a normal day.
So what is this? What am I up to here? Is this going to be some cop-loving blue-suck-up thing to say community policing is stupid and cops should be able to shoot whomever they want? No, not at all. Not one bit. The community policing reforms that Chief Brown and his predecessor, Chief David Kunkle, have achieved here, at great expense to themselves sometimes, have been wise and effective. It works.
As Brown urged again in a press conference yesterday, the safest and most effective way for police to do their work and protect the public is in an atmosphere of trust. I don’t believe that the words of the hardened trainer erase everything the rookie has been taught at the academy. But I do believe the reality comes out somewhere in the middle.
Sure, a cop should do the community policing thing when he can. But then he is going to have to to use his instinctual radar to guess — to guess right — when he’s walking up on a person with a gun in his pants or in the cab of his pickup and it’s the wrong guy.
Guess. Feel it. Don’t be wrong.
And that’s where I’m headed. We are free to pass every kind of law we can think of about the right to carry a gun, but none of that can change the laws of nature. We are not free to change those laws.
The cop will fear for his or her life every time. We can’t change that. And we cannot change the fact that adding a gun to that scene will greatly increase the cop’s fear. We can’t legislate that away. Reality is the trainer.
Reality tells the cop that if there is a gun in somebody’s pocket or on his person or within his reach, the cop is going to end up dead like those cops in the videos if he doesn’t achieve instant and total control immediately even if that means shooting first. The law of the gun is simple: Shoot second and die.
After the cop-killing carnage in Dallas Thursday night, Brown made a few remarks in a press conference about the logistical dilemma posed for police by the presence of 20 to 30 “open-carry” advocates that night who had shown up for the peaceful protest wearing camo gear, bullet-proof vests and gas masks and carrying rifles slung over their shoulders.
C.J. Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, quickly took to social media to rebut the chief, saying the police should have no trouble distinguishing bad guys from good because, "the bad guys are the ones shooting.
“If you can't identify a threat,” he said, “you shouldn't be wearing a uniform.” He said his 14-year-old daughter could tell the difference.
Quite apart from the sneering anti-cop tone of his remarks, what struck me most was the absolute arm-chair naivete — no, I think I have to call it ignorance — regarding real life on the street, the inescapable unchangeable reality that the trainer wants to drill into a rookie cop.
All guns look the same. All guns are equal. If there’s a gun, the gun is all you look at. The cop must achieve absolute control over that gun.
There can’t be guys show-boating around the scene like AR-15 ballerinas. Any and every gun on the scene that is not a cop’s gun is a threat to life, no matter what the law says about it. It is not in the power of law to change that reality.
Let’s look at this same reality from another perspective. Videos we have seen so far of the deaths of Alton Sterling, 37, in Louisiana, and Philando Castile, 32, in Minnesota are inconclusive as to what Sterling and Castile did with their guns in their encounters with police. But both men had guns.
Castile’s companion and witness to his death, Diamond Reynolds, has asserted that Castile had a permit to carry his gun. She has derided the weeping of the officer who shot and killed Castile as unmanly. I hear the weeping as irrefutable evidence of extreme stress at the very limits of what human beings, including cops, can endure. But let’s split the difference and just agree that this was a high-stress encounter.
If you put me on a grand jury in either of those cases, no matter how much I didn’t like what I saw on the videos, I could not vote to indict either cop because of the presence of guns on the persons of the people they shot.
Look. Bring a gun to a gun fight, get shot. The gun itself, the physical presence of the gun, ends the conversation until the gun is under control, and, if it’s your gun, you damn well may wind up dead before that happens. There simply is not a way to change that reality.
It’s kind of like the “debate” about the use of a robot bomb to kill the shooter in Dallas. What debate? Does someone really think there are rules “according to Hoyle” that govern what can be done to you after you start shooting cops?
I’m struck by what I think are strong parallels between the tone of the remarks by Grisham, the Open Carry president, and what we know so far about the shooter in Dallas. Based on the shooter’s behavior and on the fragments revealed so far of his journal, we see that this was a man who sought to reshape the world around him with a gun, just as the Open Carry people do.
The shooter did not have a criminal record. I have never seen anything to indicate that Grisham is anything but a law-abiding citizen. But after my own long career as a reporter, which has involved talking to a lot more criminals than I ever wanted to, I can’t help sensing — this is only my personal opinion — an incredible resonance of similarity between the Open Carry mentality and the criminal mentality.
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Both are marked by a narcissistic grandiosity, the showing off and the strutting, always coupled with a self-justifying, rationalizing paranoia. Both mentalities are obsessed with protecting themselves from, cutting themselves off from any kind of extended duty or moral responsibility toward anyone who might challenge their narcissistic view of themselves. Both see the gun as the ultimate expression of their wills and personalities.
Hey. I definitely am not saying that every person who gets a carry permit and carries a concealed weapon is a narcissistic whacko. Lots of people have lots of reasons. In the people around me who have permits or talk about getting them, I see it more often as symptomatic of a perception that organized society and organized law enforcement are losing their ability to protect.
But, the fact remains: I don’t care how quick you are to tell a cop you have a permitted gun on you. The instant you say you have any kind of gun for any kind of reason under any kind of circumstance, you have just ratcheted up the tension between you and that cop by 100 percent. That’s just how it is according to the laws of nature.
I don’t think you should get shot, if you have a permit. I don’t want you to get shot. I will hate it if you get shot. It will be wrong. But I will not vote to indict the cop who shoots you.