Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/24/17

This morning, my mind is occupied by one long-standing ethics issue, and the rest seem trivial in comparison. Let’s warm up by trying to find some way out of this mess.

The ethical problem seems increasingly beyond our ability to solve. Yesterday there was second mistrial in the retrial of Raymond M. Tensing, the former University of Cincinnati police officer who has been charged with the 2015 murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Samuel DuBose, an unarmed motorist.  This is the third example of a police officer shooting a black man under questionable circumstances being found short of being criminally responsible in a week:

In St. Paul, police dashboard video showed Officer Jeronimo Yanez shoot into the car where Philando Castile was sitting with his fiancée and her daughter, and acquitted the officer. In that case, the officer appeared to have panicked after Castile reached into his pocket for his wallet after telling the officer, unasked, that he was carrying a firearm. In Milwaukee, jurors acquitted Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown after watching frame by frame as he shot once at fleeing armed suspect, Sylville K. Smith, then fired a second time after Smith tossed the gun he was holding and lay on the ground. Now, in Cincinnati, jurors couldn’t agree on the proper culpability of Officer Tensing. He stopped  DuBose for a missing license plate, then asked him for his driver’s license. Instead of producing it, DuBose pulled the door closed with his left hand and restarted the car with his right hand. The officer reached into the car with his left arm, yelled “Stop!” twice, and used his right hand to fire his gun directly, into Mr. DuBose’s head, killing him.

What can we say about these scenarios, and many others?

1. The victims did not deserve to die.

2. The officers grossly mishandled a situation.

3. In each case, the victim behaved in a manner that placed him in greater peril than he needed to be.

4. The officers either ignored their training, were not sufficiently trained to deal with the intense situations that police necessarily must be prepared to deal with responsibly and professionally, or were temperamentally unfit for their jobs.

5. Jurors do not presume that police officers target blacks out of bigotry and malice, and believe that the dangers they accept by taking on the duty of protecting the public and enforcing the law earns them the benefit on the doubt.

I will add that I also do not believe that police officers target blacks out of bigotry and malice. I do believe that many officers enter these confrontations with more fear of blacks than whites, and that this bias often leads to unjustified shootings.

What can be done to address this continuing, tragic and divisive problem? The furious demands of activists that every such police shooting should be prosecuted as a murder doesn’t help, for then cowardly, Baltimore-style prosecutors bring excessive charges for political expediency, and juries properly reject them, leading to political attacks on the system and society itself and emotional protests. Civil damages are often appropriate, and perhaps they provide incentive for police departments to do a better job recruiting and training. Prosecutions, meanwhile, make it more difficult to persuade intelligent, dedicated men and women to go into police work, when they see that a mistake under stress will cause them to be labeled a bigot and a murderer. It is tempting to say, “This is simple. If a cop says “Don’t reach for your gun,” keep your hands on the wheel. If you have a gun and a cop says stop and drop the gun, stop and drop the gun. If an officer stops your car, don’t try to speed off while he’s talking to you.” These statements are all true, but violating them should not warrant instant execution, or its equivalent.

34 Comments

Filed under U.S. Society

34 responses to “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/24/17

  1. valkygrrl

    Civil damages are often appropriate, and perhaps they provide incentive for police departments to do a better job recruiting and training.

    Why would civil damages alter police policy?

    They all have qualified immunity. The payouts don’t come out of the police budget. Only the chiefs themselves can be fired by the politicians. Mayors and governors don’t stay in office by chastising police, doing so would risk blowback from the police themselves along with the people who like to spend time talking about law and order.

  2. deery

    I think you need more evidentiary support for #5. Was this line of thinking argued at any of the trials?

    But as far as solutions, it will have to be varied and multipronged. But primarily, one of the keys will have to be training in de-escalation.The USA’s police shooting numbers far and away outstrips the rest of the world, even after taking gun ownership numbers into account, by up to a factor of 70 in some estimates. Many point to the “Bulletproof warrior training” that has become so popular in police academies lately. I don’t know if that’s the case, but from the sound of it, it doesn’t help.

  3. Bad Bob

    Difficult subject. While I think in some instances police today are a little too “trigger happy” (i.e. pulling out their firearms), it is undeniable that since the Ferguson event police have been targeted and ambushed, the most chilling the two New York City Officers executed in their car, or the Dallas event.

    How much of this plays into the reactions of officers? Secondly, blacks account for a far larger share of violent crime than their proportion of the population – my perception is that it is primarily in predominantly black areas like Chicago or Baltimore or Los Angeles, but I’m sure other areas too, ironically against their fellow black citizens. Police officers will be more aware of this. If bias has its roots in facts, how biased is it?

    That said, a gun rights advocate named Colion Noir wrote a profound article (facebook post) on the Castile event, identifying the problem well, but shorter on solutions.

    I think it’s a larger community problem, perhaps more than a police problem, but how to solve it? I.e. the recent post here, referencing snitches get stitches, the fact that family environments in the most violent communities are virtually non-existent and gangs become family, no economic opportunities in those areas even so, and on and on it goes. All of those circumstances lead to the antipathy for the police, an “us v. them” mentality, and creates the kind of environment where Mr. Castile gets killed, when he didn’t need to.

    Anyone who’s ever been to traffic school has probably heard the officer teaching the course tell you, when you’re pulled over, put your hands on the top of the steering wheel, and don’t move them unless the officer directs you to get your license and registration. I’ve had the good fortune of attending many such training sessions due to certain proclivities.

    Perhaps a public service announcement over the airwaves stating such? How many people would pay it heed? How many people in predominantly inner city black neighborhoods pay it heed? When one listens to NWA’s “f… the police”, probably not much, but it would likely have Mr. Castile alive today. The same can be said had officer Yanez not been in fear due to both recent events and “historic” evidence. You can say the greater burden falls on LEOs, due to training, but they are still people, and who knows what Mr. Yanez had faced in the last week or month on patrol as he pulled over Mr. Castile.

    Nobody gets a pass.

  4. Alex

    1. Police officers should be held to a higher standard than civilians. Yes, they face a more perilous job than most people, but they are also the face of the state for a good number of people. While I grant that it makes sense to give them certain protections when looking at it in a vacuum, under the current circumstances they have to work to earn that trust from society.
    2. Civil liability has proven to be insufficient for the police to improve their practices. As the next step of “where ethics fail the law stepa in” we need to move to “where civil law fails criminal law steps in”. Institutional incentives haven’t worked so we nees to directly motivate the individual to do the right thing.
    3. In the Castile shooting there were no actions that imperiled or gave the impression of imperiling the officer. Concealed permit carriers are instruct to immediately inform police that they are armed precisely to avoid surprises when a weapon is found in a search. Like the Tamir Rice shooting, the police officer made a terrible decision while the victim was denied any opportunity to de-escalate. I have zero sympathy for professional incompetence and less than zero for professional incompetence in the exercise of state duties (that includes politicians, public school teachers, and career bureaucrats too; but at least their failures are unlikely to end up in a bullet to the head of an innocent).
    4. Since I don’t want to push for a national anti-police crusade I’ll settle for the following. Leave the law and privileges granted to cops as they are, but when a department is involved in clear wrongdoing the relevant legislature rises the standards of expected police conduct. Laws that will put them in jail for negligence. This will force the department to raise standards and for individuals who are not willing to be held to the new standards to leave.

    • Matthew B

      When you have juries who won’t hold officers accountable, it doesn’t matter what new laws you pass. The officers just will be acquitted of additional charges.

      • Juries aren’t there to “hold officers accountable.” They are there to decide whether there is evidence that they have violated laws. The officers are accountable for their actions. That doesn’t mean they necessarily belong in jail. This is the dumbing down of the issues that BLM encourages.

        • Matthew B

          Well you can attack my choice of words….
          My points remains, juries seem to be unwilling to convict officers who are on duty.

          • And I explained why. And it is not unrasobale. I’m not attacking your choice of words, I’m requiring precision. What would be reasonable and just?

            • Matthew B

              What would be reasonable and just? End the ability of unions to prevent the discipline of officers and politically insist on more de-escalation instead of overwhelming firepower as a policy.

              I think the obstacle to juries is that it is all or nothing: years in jail or nothing. When departments try any other discipline, the unions make it a major pain to issue punishments (including termination). Instead of leaving it up to individual departments, the states should step in and punish, up to revocation of certification when needed. Officers like saying “driving is a privilege.” Well so should be an officer of the law. They have no right to be an officer, we’re placing great trust in them. Once they should earn. In my state we’re already seeing this method used on bad teachers. The situation was a parallel – teachers were being paid to not teach and sit around because it was cheaper than firing them. It resulted in a political backlash and the result was a much more vigilant teachers standard and practices division. They started yanking licenses for incompetence. The union can’t fight the termination at that point; no license equals no job. Ditto for cops: take away their certification and they can’t be a cop.

              The second part is also requires political intervention. We need to intervene and dictate how training will happen. Right now officers are being taught that non compliance is grounds to shoot. We should stop.

        • Alex

          On this point I’ll grant that the jury likely did right and followed the instructions as given. My point is that the instructions were based on the law, and the law gives the officer quite a bit of slack on acceptable behavior. That is why the law needs to change.

          • The law doesn’t mention police officers at all, Alex. Nor do the instructions. What I am trying to do, with little success, is to get you to recognize that the “slack on acceptable behavior” is called “burden of proof” and “what society requires before we jail citizens.” The law needs to change to what? A system where those who accept the job of facing personal harm are expected to not act to protect themselves and have less right to do so than ordinary people? Seriously? What would such a law say?

    • 1. In the Castile shooting there were no actions that imperiled or gave the impression of imperiling the officer.

      1. Untrue. The officer told the driver not to move his hands. He did anyway.

      2. “Concealed permit carriers are instruct to immediately inform police that they are armed precisely to avoid surprises when a weapon is found in a search.” We went over that. In some states, but not this one. Untrue.

      What does “higher standard” mean? That police should be presumed to have a lesser sense of personal peril than others? I could argue that they have every reason to have a GREATER sense of peril. Name a criminal law where we hold different occupations to different standards of guilt according to who they are, if they are adults and of sound mind.

      • Matthew B

        As far as number 1: We don’t know. There is no video proof, and the two witnesses disagree. Yanez certainly has motivation to lie so we can’t just go with the officers word. That creates a reasonable doubt, hence Yanez gets acquitted. But it’s far from certain.

        • The video is not unclear at all. The officer keeps telling him not to reach for “it.” The officer is obviously anxious. If Castile had just placed his hands on the steering wheel and asked, “What do you want me to do?”, he’s be alive.

      • Alex

        1. The officer’s words were literally “don’t reach for it”. That is a terrible thing to say. If the gun is in a hip holster and he is taking his ID from the glove box he is technically not reaching for it. If the officer had actually said “do not move” or “put your hands on the dashboard” I’d grant it, but here there is no way for the officer to argue that Castile was *actually* disobeying the instruction unless he knew where the weapon was.
        2. I likely missed that discussion, but I have not heard of a single firearms safety expert give contradicting advice. I’d love to know if the current “best practice” is different.

        For differing standards see: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9.41.280 – Subsection 3(h). If I had a meeting with the principal while armed with a concealed carry permit I’m breaking the law, if an off-duty police officer does so, he’s not. I’m being held to a different standard because I’m not law enforcement.

        What do I mean by higher standard? I mean that someone who has the authority to stop me while driving (justified or not), who can come into my place of residence or work armed without explicit permission (after-the-fact defenses for unwarranted searches do not make an unlawful entry criminal), and can then instruct me to do whatever they want to ensure their safety; or even worse do so to my underage kids who may not be mentally prepared for such interaction has to be an expert on human interactions and de-escalation. We don’t allow random people to chase robbers and arrest them for perfectly good reasons. When we allow and actually instruct someone to do that, they better know how to do so without endangering innocents. Police should not have a lesser sense of peril than others, what they should have is a much better ability to analyze the situation and figure out the actual level of peril. A civilian who made a split-second choice to shoot with the amount of information the officer had would be doing time for manslaughter and no one would blink an eye, as it should be. Also tactically the officer was at such an advantage that he could have held fire until he confirmed the suspect had a weapon on his hand. Responsible gun owners have internalized all of that, why can’t we expect someone whose job requires them to carry a gun to have that same level of training?

        • The officer’s words were literally “don’t reach for it”. That is a terrible thing to say. If the gun is in a hip holster and he is taking his ID from the glove box he is technically not reaching for it. If the officer had actually said “do not move” or “put your hands on the dashboard” I’d grant it, but here there is no way for the officer to argue that Castile was *actually* disobeying the instruction unless he knew where the weapon was.

          That is EXACTLY why your theoretical standards are ridiculous. Oh, Castile was not technically reaching for his gun, it just LOOKED like that. Since in self-defense what matters is how it LOOKS to the one in peril, that’s a useless and deadly distinction.
          2. I likely missed that discussion, but I have not heard of a single firearms safety expert give contradicting advice. I’d love to know if the current “best practice” is different.

          2. I the law requires someone to say “I have a gun,” then the cop knows why he is saying it. If the law does not, then the statement raises anxiety and fear, and sounds like a threat. How about, “I think you should know that I am trained in karate, and could kill you with my hands. Just FYI!” ?

          • Chris

            1. I believe the point there was that the officer gave Castile incompetent and unclear instructions.

            • 1) That’s not a crime. 2) How clear does “Don’t pull it out!” have to be?

              Yanez said, “Okay, don’t reach for it, then.” Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out,” Yanez screamed, “Don’t pull it out!

              If you can’t tell from that “Wow, I better not pull anything out because the cop might think it’s my gun!” you’re an idiot. Which is also not a shootable offense…but it does get people shot. And did.

  5. Some fuzzy answer: for 100 years or so, well-meaning people have tried to improve cities: beautification, environmental cleanup, zoning, civil service, minimum wages – all sorts of good-government stuff. One unintended result has been cities that are half theme parks for the upper classes and half warehousing for unskilled people, with police in the middle. The comfortable people have every incentive to portray incidents as arising directly from police-population conflicts, rather than from the makeup of the cities themselves. I think that the cities should be opened up in a lot of different ways, including considering whether political patronage can’t be a force for good.

  6. I’m curious, what are specific jury instructions handed out in terms of how the juries are expected to interpret the evidence as it relates to the specific laws in question…

  7. Isaac

    All of my sympathies are with the victims of these shootings, and I’m sure there are practical things that can be done to safely reduce these types of incidents.

    The thing that makes my head explode about this is the sort of…manipulation that goes into the level of attention that these events receive. It is not proportionate or logical, and that makes me suspect ulterior motives on the part of…someone. Political instigators like Soros, media outlets, the very powerful Left in general. They have a lot to gain by presenting this as this as the current Crisis We Must Do Something About. It stirs up their base, gets the vote out, keeps them in power, and keeps cash flowing into their war chests. Most importantly it distracts from issues that objectively, inarguably, absolutely affect many, many more people in equally significant ways.

    Violent crime is rising in US cities. The increase in murders in just ONE of those cities completely eclipses and swallows up, by far, the number of deaths caused by cops in these sorts of white-on-black incidents.

    Meanwhile the amount of media attention given to the racially-inciting incidents eclipses and swallows up, by far, the attention given to the urban neighborhoods that are becoming inhabitable death-zones.

    In summary, we have chosen to collectively hand-wave thousands of urban murders, re-segregation issues in cities, and even police abuse in general in order to focus on a tiny sub-set (white on black) of a tiny subset (cop on citizen) of all murders. My understanding is that there is zero evidence that these types of killings are trending upwards. Something smells like exploitation.

    • wyogranny

      Ulterior motives are usually on the part of the person or agenda that benefits. Try to figure out who that might be. I have no idea, but I’ll bet it’s not the obvious ones.

    • Chris

      “Government agent kills citizen” is, for obvious reasons, more newsworthy than “citizen kills citizen.”

      • Isaac

        But if the first is exceedingly rare and probably declining, and the second is expanding to epidemic proportions, which SHOULD be newsworthy?

        • Chris

          Do you have evidence of either? I don’t know whether officer-involved killings of citizens is declining, but I do know that murder in general is not “expanding to epidemic proportions.” There have been slight increases in a few cities over the past couple of years, but we are still on a downward trend.

  8. OhThatGuy

    Hindsight is always 20/20. I would venture to guess that law enforcement officers (LEOs) are no more racist or crazy than the average person. However, they are placed in positions of making life and death decisions in fractions of a second while the media, the public, and prosecutors have the luxury of taking all the time they want to analyze, review, second-guess, and criticize an officers actions.

    When making a traffic stop or similar interaction, LEOs have to assess the situation quickly and make determinations about the person or people at the scene. Twice I have had law enforcement encounters while carrying a concealed firearm. Both times I promptly informed the LEO is was carrying (per the laws of my state) and had my ID out and ready. My hands were plainly visible and my tone was polite and professional. Neither LEO so much as raised an eyebrow nor acted in any way that showed concern for his safety. Had I been groping for my wallet, digging in a glove box, or acting in any way that could be perceived as dangerous, the interaction may have been different. Why? Because of MY actions. I know that when dealing with a LEO, my actions have a huge impact on how things are going to go.

    Just a some organizations (a term I’m using loosely at best) are promoting fear and advocating violence, the media is playing up every LEO-involved incident that occurs, often to the harm of law enforcement in general. I’m sure every LEO is reminded daily to be extra careful, both in protecting themselves but also to make the right decisions and not overreact to a situation. But they also see in the news inexcusable police behavior and where cops are being hunted and killed just because they’re cops. How do you balance not wanting to be the next cop on TV being brought up on civil rights violations with doing your job protecting yourself and others?

    When it comes down to it, cops are just people like you and me. Yes they are trained to handling things in certain ways but when put into a life and death situation (or maybe it isn’t life and death – the point is the officer may not know that until it’s too late), I don’t think race or anything other than self preservation is going through the officers mind. Trying to figure out intent, like “is this guy going for his wallet or a gun?” requires training and experience. A person pulled over for a traffic stop that is non-compliant or acting aggressively is starting a chain of events that can lead to tragic consequences. Their actions are going to have a significant impact on how the officer handles the situation.

    From my perspective it’s like other risk/result situations. Millions of people fly everyday, and on most days nobody dies. But we all know that it’s possible. Maybe today is the just the wrong day to be on that particular flight because it’s not going to end well for whatever reason. Does that mean we should stop using airplanes? No, of course not. Will air travel ever achieve a zero percent fatality rate? Who knows. Consider all of the positive and uneventful law enforcement interactions that occur every day and weight them against the the occasional ones that go terribly wrong. Will we ever have zero police mistakes or bad decisions? I doubt it. But I also doubt that turning every LEO encounter that goes wrong into a national news story, a riot, or a DOJ inquirry is helping either.

  9. “What can be done to address this continuing, tragic and divisive problem?”

    Reduce the emphasis on routine traffic stops for every last possible infraction. This could be accomplished by making it not so easy for every last one of us to be lawbreakers.

    What was he stopped for? A broken tail light?

    Don’t most states have required annual vehicle inspections? Place the onus of regulatory compliance on the passage of an annual inspection, then pull people over and ticket them for out of date inspection stickers. That at least gives people 1) more time to fix some of the more inane problems they are getting pulled over for, 2) puts the urgency of fixing a problem at the very location a problem can be fixed, if the state is anything like Texas and annual inspections occur at car repair shops.

    Was he not also arbitrarily pulled over “for a broken tail light” as the real excuse to pull him over because he vaguely resembled the suspect in a recent robbery?

    Stop permitting that kind of run around for apprehending suspects and requiring a bit more solid “suspect matching” before having a good reason to stop someone and maybe on-edge-for-suspected-robbers officers won’t be in positions to approach an otherwise innocent guys.

    • Isaac

      This!

      A major milestone in my (descent?) into kinda-libertarianism was when I was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt 5 seconds after leaving my driveway. The cop just kinda shrugged and was all “it’s really dangerous to not wear a seat belt.” while handing me a ticket for about $100. I sarcastically thanked him for saving my life and got more and more upset about it as I drove off. Just the standard “brush with the law” that we’re all supposed to be okay with but this one bothered me for some reason. At the time I was living in a very nice suburban town where the cops had little to do other than chase down minor infractions and rake in the cash.

      In that same city, I had my truck broken into (window smashed) and a friend’s purse stolen from inside. We didn’t touch the truck and called the police immediately…and waited 3 hours. No one came. Every time I called they said they were on their way. Finally we just gave up and drove the truck home.

      No American wants to feel like he or she is constantly being lorded over by smug, power-tripping, quota-having agents of the State. Especially if you’re a decent person who lives in a high-crime area and happens to share a skin color with most of the criminals.

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