In the wake of several recent news events concerning tragic consequences from police’ use of force, many are questioning the direction law enforcement policies and procedures are heading in the United States and across the world. While public sentiment continues to express that it understands and respects the necessity of police intervention in potentially dangerous situations, serious concerns remain about guidelines regarding the use, and extent, of such force.
In what is likely the most visible of many scenarios concerning police use of force in recent months, Amnesty International released a report today accusing officers in Ferguson, Missouri of human rights abuses in their response to protests over the death of Michael Brown. The report documented events observed by Amnesty International delegates at the protests between Aug. 14 and 22. Among their primary concerns, the delegates reported on an arsenal of non-lethal weapons such as new and exotic long-range acoustic devices, along with tactics such as enforcing a “Five second keep walking” rule. The thrust of their report seemed to be that they believe the actions they observed were indicative of a strategy to intimidate protesters.
Another such incident that recently made headlines was the death of Misty Holt-Singh while a hostage in a Stockton, California bank robbery on July 16, 2014. A preliminary ballistics report released Aug. 11 indicated that her death was the result of indiscriminate shooting from police officers, and not of the suspects holding her. Holt-Singh fatally took 10 bullets out of approximately 600 fired from 33 law enforcement officers into the car in which she was being held. Recordings of the Stockton Police Department’s radio traffic from the event indicate that Holt-Singh’s presence inside the vehicle was known by police at the time the shooting occurred. SPD Chief Eric Jones said in an interview for KTVU 2 that many of the officers on the scene were aware of the fact that there was still a hostage in the vehicle, but that the suspects opened fire on police officers first. He explained that police return fire was a result of training rather than direct order.
The last, and possibly most tragic, of this reports’ litany of events concerns Eric Garner, a New York man whose death was determined to have been caused by compression of his chest and neck by law enforcement in the process of detaining him. Garner was initially accosted by police for selling loose cigarettes at $ .50 a piece on July 17, as reported by CNN. A video of the incident shows Garner raising his hands above his head while asking the police not to touch him, at which point NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo places him in the choke hold from which he would eventually lose his life, and takes him down in what appears to be a mixed martial arts move. Although Garner’s obesity, asthma and cardiovascular disease were reported as contributing factors, many people are rightfully concerned about the police’ use of force in this case, as Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” in an obvious show of distress. While law enforcement officers have wide flexibility in what constitutes justified force while they carry out their necessary and personally dangerous mission, the preponderance of these situations causes many to ask themselves if there were not some other way to handle these cases that would be safer for all.
By B. J. Whittemore
Photo by Jamelle Boule – flickr License