Police State Killing Caught on Tape

The newest police atrocity to receive significant media coverage—-the killing of Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station by a police officer on New Years Day—-was caught on tape and widely distributed. It has now been watched half a million times. Could this mean the beginning of a shift in the way police abuses are handled in American society?

Upon seeing the videotape, a former DEA agent and expert on “use-of-force” cases, said, “It’s clear it was not a use-of-deadly-force situation. . . . You’ve got more than enough manpower there to handle these guys.”

Many others defend the police conduct, coming up with all sorts of excuses and appealing to the high stress situations in which police find themselves. But consider when the tables are turned. When a normal member of the public mistakenly shoots a police officer, even in a much higher-stress situation, even when it is on his own property and he would normally have the legal right to shoot the intruder, he isn’t let off so easily. See the case of Cory Maye.

Accidents do happen, and police officers often commit excessively violent acts not out of malice but because of a range of factors, including stress. But certainly they are more likely to hurt the innocent and use disproportionate force due to the default legal protection they enjoy as officers of the law, the assumption that their use of violence is just and legal, and the power they have to enforce many laws that would not in a free society be laws at all. The increasing tendency of police to rely on tasers for routine crowd control is a real concern, as is the general expansion and militarization of domestic police forces. To make excesses and abuses of police state power much less likely, the power itself must be radically reduced. Most important, police should not be above the law, and should be held to the precise same standards of law and justice as is everyone else. Lots of people live in dangerous situations in this country, and the leeway given to an officer for unnecessarily killing a citizen when there are mitigating circumstances should be no greater than if the situation were reversed.

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