• Police Officers: No Right to Personal Opinion

    author-photo-150x150Regarding the as yet unresolved police shooting of a young, male robbery suspect in Ferguson, Missouri, and its continuing fallout, I recently read a column by Ansel Herz in Seattle’s leftist publication, the Stranger. It appears that to some people police officers have no right to express a personal opinion that differs from theirs or runs afoul of what they believe is politically correct. What is it about police opinion that it gets such little respect? Apparently, supporting a fellow officer after the left has already condemned and slated him for execution should be forbidden.

    In fact, in such situations where there are witness discrepancies, support for either side will naturally form based on varying assessments of news reports. Either side could be shown to be wrong after an investigation and some people may then alter their opinions. However, in this case, some people condemn those like SPD Sergeant Chris Hall simply for assessing the known circumstances differently based on a different perspective.

    Herz reports some supposedly inappropriate comments made while off-duty by Chris Hall, on his Facebook page, in support of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson regarding the shooting of Michael Brown. (Oh, and if anyone doesn’t know it by now, Brown, the 6’4″, 294# robbery suspect, was unarmed at the time of the shooting.)

    That Brown was unarmed, incidentally, was a fact known only by Brown, and then in retrospect, by everyone after the incident, but certainly, not by Officer Wilson during the incident. How could he possibly have known that Brown was not armed during the incident? This is especially true if the investigation eventually shows that Brown was the instigator of an attack on Officer Wilson.

    Early in my career I had a knife-wielding, domestic violence suspect at gunpoint. I’d already nearly emptied my can of pepper spray into his face, and with knife raised he was still shouting that he wanted to kill me. Fortunately, he did not force me to shoot him by not advancing and finally dropping the knife. Nevertheless, apparently, now “unarmed,” the large man continued to physically resist arrest. I and two other officers struggled to bring him under control. During the struggle, I noticed another knife strapped to the man’s forearm. By the time we finally brought him fully under control and finished searching him, we’d found three more knives for a total of five. Police officers can never assume a suspect is unarmed or no longer armed after disposing of a weapon.

    How many civilians, if they had watched this incident on video, would have assumed that the suspect was unarmed after he dropped the knife? What if he hadn’t been carrying the one knife in his hand, but was still secretly armed with the other four knives? What if, assuming he was now unarmed, we had approached to apprehend him with less caution than we’d use with an obviously armed suspect? These are all what-ifs  officers face every day. These are among the what-ifs Officer Darren Wilson may have faced during his encounter with Michael Brown.

    I’ve heard an awful lot of folks, even those who should know better, jumping to the conclusion that the officer abused his authority, used excessive force, and violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights. All these conclusions absent any investigation are irresponsible. Some people even contend that the officer “executed” Brown in broad daylight, in the middle of the street simply because he was black. Cops are in a unique position to be able to put themselves in Officer Wilson’s place when dissecting the various descriptions of the incident. It’s not an academic exercise for cops; it’s visceral.

    For example, Michael Brown’s felon friend, Dorian Johnson, described the officer as still seated within his patrol car and reaching out and grabbing the 6’4″, 294# Michael Brown and pulling him into the car through the driver’s window. This scenario just doesn’t ring true in my experience, and, frankly,  just doesn’t make much sense. Who would do that?

    It seems that to some people it is just fine to support Michael Brown, based upon their assessment of events, but Chris Hall, and other police officers, may not support Darren Wilson based upon their alternate assessment. This hypocrisy staggers the intellectually honest mind. We saw what happened in Ferguson when a few brave (some say dumb) people attempted to show their support for Officer Wilson. Some Brown supporters threatened any Wilson supporter with violence, and the police had to protect and whisk them away for their safety. And this, from people who were, supposedly, demonstrating in support of Michael Brown’s civil rights. However, their version of civil rights seems to be the only version allowed, and, according to some of these folks, police opinions have no place in a discussion, which affects them directly.

     

  • Social Justice Definitions

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    If you’ve visited this site in the past, you’ve likely encountered stories about social justice and its definitions. Now, I’m not going to argue that social justice isn’t hard to define; it is and has been for well over a century. It is a dangerous phrase because its component words sound so nice—social and justice—and, it can be defined differently for different people. These days, apparently on both sides of the political aisle, the definition seems to point toward assisting those members of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural groups that have suffered past governmental abuses. However, agreeing on a quasi-definition does not mean they agree on social justice’s intent when pursued by government or academia. When this path is trod by churches and community groups, it might be laudable. In fact, it was a Catholic priest who coined the phrase in the 19th Century. When government engages in it, it is simply wrong and contrary to the American ideal of equality.

    However, social justice, the treating of one group differently than another group, would so blatantly appear to violate the constitutional guarantee of equal justice found several places in the U.S. Constitution, not the least of which, in the 14th Amendment’s, equal protection clause. The eminent scholar Thomas Sowell extrapolates social justice out to “Cosmic Justice.”

    Having so prefaced, the definition of social justice, especially when crafted by academia and government, is of high consequence. Some of you may know that I returned to school to pursue my English language and literature degree about two and a half years ago. I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I found that I still had several electives to fill, so I enrolled in Criminal Justice 101. Why would a recently retired police officer take an introductory course like this after nearly 22 years of service? Since I still write about police issues, including political interference in law enforcement, I wanted to compare what I was taught with what new students are learning today.

    Lo and behold, the definition of social justice stands out like a beacon of liberalism beaming up from the page. Consider the following from the textbook:

    Chp. 1, P. 8: “Social justice is a concept that embraces all aspects of civilized life. It is linked to notions of fairness and to cultural beliefs about right and wrong.”

    Chp. 1, P. 8: “Criminal justice, on the other hand, refers to the aspects of social justice that concern violations of the criminal law.”

    I have to ask: When did we come to a consensus well developed enough to have this politically partisan definition make it into an academic textbook? At least half of the American population would scoff at this definition of social justice as presented without the larger context. Social justice is a highly charged political term. And, since when has criminal justice been reduced to a component part of social justice?

    I’m not saying that taken in a vacuum, this definition can’t be technically correct. However, without being placed within its controversial, political context, it could lull a student into perceiving the term as a solely and exclusively positive one.

    Over these recent years in school, as an adult learner, one who has now completed a professional career, I find more than just disagreement with such academic abuses. I find these incidents to be significant distractions and impediments to learning. When I first read the above quotes about social justice, I thought my head was going to explode. I know that the above are not commonly accepted definitions of social justice by any objective cross-section of society. They are simply the opinion of one liberal segment of society.

    I worry about the younger, or less life-experienced, students who absorb anything their professors say. I’m not casting aspersions on the professors, per se. They rarely have influence over a textbook and sometimes even the syllabus of a class. Although, any professor who doesn’t provide a balancing caveat regarding the controversial role of social justice in America’s political debate, when teaching criminal justice, is either ignorant (as a fact, not a disparagement) or disingenuous (as a disparagement).