Comment Of The Day:”Ethics Hero: Prof. Jonathan Turley (And The Indefensible Whitewash Of The Shooting Of Ashli Babbitt), Part 1″

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As usual when we discuss policing ethics here, the commentary of Jim Hodgson, who actually knows what he is talking about in that field is especially welcome and enlightening. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Hero: Prof. Jonathan Turley (And The Indefensible Whitewash Of The Shooting Of Ashli Babbitt), Part 1″…

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Three things:

First, I have worked in a crowd-control team facing rioters, and while I had no doubt there were people in the crowds who wanted to harm us, regardless of the the fact that they were unarmed, we used the less-lethal force options at our disposal (riot shields, 36″ riot batons, tear gas) and the crowd control tactics we had learned, to move and disperse the rioters without using deadly force. For me, the January 6th riot seems to be a colossal failure to anticipate and plan for events which were, at the very least foreseeable, and according to some reports, fully expected to occur. With all the demonstrations and protests that occur in DC, I would expect every law enforcement agency in the area to be well-trained in crowd control, and well-equipped to deal with rioters, with comprehensive plans in place.

It remains to be seen what less-lethal force options were available to Capitol Police officers inside the building, but the fact remains that the officer in question was photographed while poised with gun drawn and finger on the trigger, apparently well before the nature of the threat from the rioters was known to any degree of certainty. If rioters had violently fought their way through a variety of defenses including less-lethal force options effectively deployed against them, it would be easier to conclude that a serious threat was posed. But since the rioters gained entry with relatively minimal resistance, no deployment of less-lethal force, and in some cases it seems were even invited into sensitive areas, the “lethal threat” conclusion seems strained. But, if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Second, my own personal standard for use of deadly force against an unarmed person would be to reserve it for the gravest extreme, if I were about to be overpowered by one or more assailants and knocked to the ground and beaten or restrained, or being rendered unconscious. An officer I worked with was attacked in a public place -while off duty- by three thugs who beat him nearly senseless with their bare hands, and when one of them started choking him into unconsciousness he managed to draw his concealed handgun and shoot the choker five times. (The others fled.) He had no doubt that their intent was to kill him, although none of them were armed. No one that I knew questioned his decision to shoot, but he always second-guessed his actions, not because of the guy he shot (who did not die but went to prison for 25 years) but the fact that two of his rounds passed through the assailant and could have -but luckily did not- strike some uninvolved bystander.

Third, as a practical matter, police frequently encounter unarmed people who fight fiercely but are nevertheless not shot, because their assaults do not cross into the “imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury” territory. In my early days as an officer I had to fight numerous people, drunk and otherwise, who forcibly resisted arrest, but I knew that merely “getting my ass kicked” was not justification for using deadly force. We were trained in “empty hands” defense and issued batons and chemical weapons and trained in their use, as well as having partners (sometimes) or backup units (usually) available. I had to fight my way “out of a hole” numerous times before gaining the upper hand or getting assistance, but thanks to good training, hard-earned upper body strength and dumb luck I was never seriously injured, beyond needing a few stitches here and there.

21 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day:”Ethics Hero: Prof. Jonathan Turley (And The Indefensible Whitewash Of The Shooting Of Ashli Babbitt), Part 1″

  1. Excellent essay Jim. My concern today is that a standard is being established to permit the killing of citizens who rise up against the increasingly authoritarian government. If that becomes the standard then we can expect rioters to bring their firearms to the party if simply for self defense.

    When the governed believe that the government has eliminated the avenues to remove their consent to be governed we will have some serious problems.

    • I share those concerns, as our federal government slides increasingly away from liberty and our constitutional guarantees. It should alarm every American that a bureaucratic ruling, an executive order, or a majority vote by a few hundred legislators, signed into law by a Leftist executive, can effectively negate for millions of citizens the exercise of essential God-given rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Repeal? They don’t need no stinkin’ repeal!

  2. Jack;
    Thanks for the COTD. I always hope that my perspective is helpful for understanding policing issues. I so appreciate your perspective and that of other commenters on the plethora of issues discussed in this blog.

  3. Jim has some points… But a lot of this is also rhetorical and irrelevant.

    The one thing that we’re in violent agreement over is the lack of preparation and foresight in the people organizing the defense of the capital on January 6th. Had there been adequate manpower adequately geared, I have the impression that the day would have ended MUCH differently than it did.

    But discussing what should have happened in a perfect situation is useful only in planning for future issues.

    Fact is that there wasn’t an adequate number of officers, and they weren’t properly armed for a less-lethal confrontation. In order for the riot to get to Byrd, multiple lines in front of him had either crumpled or been abandoned, and we don’t know how well information was flowing. Byrd didn’t have riot gear. He didn’t have smoke grenades or tear canisters. To the best of my knowledge he didn’t even have a taser.

    Byrd should never have been in the situation that he was. But he was, and he took action. Was the action perfect? No. But that’s not the standard. Was the action reasonable? Obviously.

    • Byrd’s was NOT reasonable. He was not in a uniform to distinguish him from the rest of the people there. [admittedly better dressed -coat & tie– than most demonstrators] and not in the slightest was equipped to do even routine police work. I will posit that he was there to direct and command and decided to get into the “real action”, ill equipped as he was for it, in many contexts aside from physical equipment.

      Like Jim H, I’ve been there and done that, and being scared s**tless is not uncommon is such situations. Byrd looked and acted like someone who had just found the opportunity to be a big shot (no pun intended). I also see a man who mistook his conferred rank as an indicator of greater than average knowledge and skill That’s a very bad thing to do.

      • What were his options? Let the riot through towards what he had ever reason to believe was Congress (no one has yet made a good argument that Byrd should have known Congress was evacuated)? Which was his very mission to protect?

        If you’re the only one, you still have to do your job.

        It’s an awful position to be in, and just like the Private Soldier at Rorke’s Drift who, standing in formation as his commanding officer told him, upon seeing 4,000 Zulu Warriors lined up against his little garrison of 150 men, asked “Why us?”, we’ll give the response of the Private’s Sergeant: “Because we’re here, lad, nobody else, just us.”

      • “He was not in a uniform to distinguish him from the rest of the people there. admittedly better dressed -coat & tie– than most demonstrators] and not in the slightest was equipped to do even routine police work. I will posit that he was there to direct and command and decided to get into the “real action”, ill equipped as he was for it, in many contexts aside from physical equipment.”

        So… What? Is your premise that had he been uniformed, they would have treated him differently than all the other uniformed people they beat past along the way? That in order for a shoot to be acceptable, he should have changed first?

        Part of the problem here, I think, is the amount of armchair quarterbacking going on: He shouldn’t have been there, they shouldn’t have gotten that far, he should have stood in the line of fire, firing from cover was “cowardly”, he should have been wearing a uniform, he should have tried to fight her, he should have let a couple of them through, he should have waited until they charged… I don’t care about your head-cannon fanfiction about what a perfect scenario would look like. Byrd operated in a situation that actually existed, and he had decisions to make in real time.

        The question is “Were those decisions reasonable?” not “Were those decisions the best possible decisions?”

  4. I enjoyed reading the comment, Jim, it was informative and well-written.

    Second, my own personal standard for use of deadly force against an unarmed person would be to reserve it for the gravest extreme, if I were about to be overpowered by one or more assailants and knocked to the ground and beaten or restrained, or being rendered unconscious.

    I think this is an excellent standard. I wish more police agencies would adopt something similar, and enforce it when necessary. But to be fair, some deference must be given to the person “on the ground.”

  5. This is why the cops last summer should have broken some kneecaps and shot out some ankles, to prevent protesters from getting back on the barricades too soon.

    • You say this tongue in cheek… But I wonder how many rioters would have been dissuaded from further rioting if they actually saw that there might be consequences to their actions.

      I’m also Blown. The. Fuck. Away. By how completely the narratives are reversing on this topic. The entire summer of 2020 the left was in full spin mode trying to conflate rioters and protestors, and we were pushing back on that, trying to point out the obvious distinction…. And now, in the context of January 6th, you’re talking about abusing protestors at the barricades? Sorry Steve, shake your head.

      • Ah, let me clear that up – I think last summer there should have been more consequences, and less spinning and “peaceful protestors” talk. That MIGHT have made some of these folks on January 6 think twice. I am not blown away by the reversal. The left wants a monopoly on everything, and the designation of peaceful protestors vs. insurrectionists is just one more thing on that list.

        • Sorry, it’s not just you, and it’s not just the right. I’m frustrated, there’s always some amount of shifting on issues because of partisan bias, but on this issue specifically it just seems particularly shameless. I don’t know why, but some of the comments I’ve seen out of staunchly progressive/conservative commentators have been indistinguishable from what a situation swapped take from their opponents would have been a year ago.

            • Which people, organizations, or governments are you demanding live by rules that they imposed on others in this conversation?

              Because you seem to be holding Byrd to a Progressive standard that I don’t think we have any information on him adhering to. And I don’t know why we would try to hold *him* to that standard if he’s never actually stated it, particularly if we disagree with the standard.

              If you want to make the argument that Democrats, both in congress and the media, are being deeply hypocritical in their treatment of Byrd compared to other officers involved in shooting, I’m there for that. If you think the way he was shielded by those people is inappropriate, I’m there for that. If you want to say that the treatment of the other officers should be the standard, and Byrd should be treated like them, I’m out.

              The way Byrd was treated wasn’t right, he was overprotected. But Byrd isn’t responsible for the way he was treated.

              • If you want to make the argument that Democrats, both in congress and the media, are being deeply hypocritical in their treatment of Byrd compared to other officers involved in shooting, I’m there for that.

                We agree.

                If you think the way he was shielded by those people is inappropriate, I’m there for that.

                We agree.

                If you want to say that the treatment of the other officers should be the standard, and Byrd should be treated like them, I’m out.

                I don’t say that at all. I do say that since the current standard IS to treat other officers as they have been treated, Byrd can’t get a pass because he’s black and shot a white Trump supporter.

  6. “Second, my own personal standard for use of deadly force against an unarmed person would be to reserve it for the gravest extreme, if I were about to be overpowered by one or more assailants and knocked to the ground and beaten or restrained, or being rendered unconscious.”

    I agree.

    For a practical real-world example, see Martin, Trayvon; and Zimmerman, George.

    –Dwayne

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