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″…
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.