The Police Traffic Stop Ethics Dilemma

Coltin LeBlanc

The Kim Potter trial in Minnesota has focused special attention on the recurring incidence of police shootings of motorists after traffic stops. Potter, now an ex-cop, fatally shot Daunte Wright when he appeared to be preparing to flee the stop, because she mistakenly drew her gun and fired it instead of her taser. The news media, as usual, is pre-biased against the police, and its analyses have reflected that, despite the fact that stopping a car has frequently proven fatal for many police officers, and there is ample justification for heightened caution and suspicion when approaching a stopped vehicle. The Washington Post unhelpfully issued a fatuous editorial headlined, “Being pulled over for a broken taillight shouldn’t end in death. Too often, it does.” Yes, indeed it does, and this is virtually always because of a combination of uncooperative and alarming behavior by the motorist and a mistaken, excessive, or poor choice of a response by police in the split second the officer has to assess the situation and act.

One way to prevent what “should” never happen is for police to just allow infractions on the highway and never stop cars. That would work. It would also result in some highway deaths caused by the uninhibited law-breaker that “shouldn’t happen,” but there are prices for everything. This is where law enforcement policy will soon arrive if the anti-police lobby gets its way and police are fired and prosecuted every time a driver sets in motion a sequence that ends in his or her own death.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/9/2021: It’s A Great Stupid Christmas, Charlie Brown! [Corrected]

It’s Christmas season song time, and that means more political correctness “updates” of classic songs that someone spent a lot of time figuring out how to be offended by. #1 on the political correctness hit list is the Frank Loesser naughty duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which I admit to calling “date-rapey” six years ago. I regret that, which is an over-statement, but not this post (#3 in a 2017 Warm-up) that expressed my annoyance at the song being treated as Christmas fare at all.

But I didn’t know until today that the song debuted in the Esther Williams watery 1949 musical comedy”Neptune’s Daughter” (which I have never watched), that it had nothing to do with Christmas in the film, and that the movie presented the song in two versions, one in which the man (Ricardo Montalban) is trying to get the woman (Esther) to stay over—neither of them can sing, incidentally—and a gender-flipped version later where an aggressive Betty Garrett (who can sing) is trying to seduce a reluctant Red Skelton (who can’t). Salon, of all places, featured a balanced analysis of the song last month, here.

1. Deception by omission, as usual. Kyle Buchanan, the New York Times movie columnist (“The Projectionist”), issued a column about how to “fix” the Oscars broadcast, which has seen its rating fall like Joe Biden’s approval numbers in recent years. Now what is the most obvious and annoying reason for much of America tuning out the Academy Awards when once following them was considered a national tradition? It’s the politicizing of the event, the woke speeches and virtue signaling, the decision to base awards on diversity rather than merit, the oppressive partisanship and Trump-bashing, and the stars revealing their depressing ignorance by shooting off their mouths as if anyone cares what they think, of course. Buchanan doesn’t mention any of this! It’s a Jumbo: “Politics? What politics?” Yes, it’s another “Bias makes you stupid” classic. Buchanan doesn’t think the oppressive politicizing of the broadcast is a problem, because it’s consistent with his politics.

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Is The George Floyd Freakout Finally Waning?

Oh, probably not, but there are some hopeful signs.

After the death by ambiguous causes of an African American petty hood resisting arrest at the hands, well, the knee, of a habitually brutal cop who should have been kicked off the force long before, absent any evidence whatsoever that the death was intentional or that it was motivated by race, police officers across the nation have been vilified, fired, prosecuted and generally abused virtually every time an African-American, and sometimes even a white citizen, died or was wounded in a police-involved shooting. This insanity, hysteria, freakout, deliberate exploitation, what ever you choose to call it, resulted in law enforcement around the nation being weakened, black communities being made more vulnerable to crime, a mass exodus of police officers, and an unprecedented spike in murders nation-wide. There were other horrible effects too, like the sudden acceptance of anti-white racism and discrimination as “restorative justice,” and the ascent of Kamala Harris to the office of Vice-President, but this is just an introduction.

Last week, however, two decisions in police-involved deaths showed that sanity might be creeping back.

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

TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTION-TRUMP

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.

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Ethics Hero: Prof. Jonathan Turley (And The Indefensible Whitewash Of The Shooting Of Ashli Babbitt)

michael-byrd-ashli-babbitt

Ethics Alarms already noted Jonathan Turley’s accurate and searing condemnation of the outrageous and sinister double standard applied to Lt. Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt on January 6. Incredibly, the blatantly partisan wound on the illusion of our justice system’s integrity got worse after Turley’s first post on the topic. The investigation of the mind-meltingly stupid riot concluded that it was not coordinated, was not incited by Donald Trump, and was not an “insurrection,” just as any objective and reasonably informed citizen could have figured out by themselves. Then Byrd, whose identity had been shielded from the public (and oddly unrevealed by the mainstream media, who could have discovered and published it if they were still practicing journalism), gave a nauseating NBC interview in which he pronounced himself a hero, made the absurd claim that he had saved untold lives by shooting an unarmed woman, and, most significantly, revealed that he had no legal basis to use deadly force. (He also revealed himself to be unfit to be trusted with a weapon.)

This prompted Turley to write his second attack on the politicized cover-up. Turley, despite the names he is called by the aspiring totalitarians of the Far Left and the Trump-Deranged, is a Democrat and a lifetime liberal. Because of what can only be an abundance of character, he has not had his values warped by being marinated in the campus culture of his typically uber-woke institution, George Washington University. Not had he shied away from disparaging the illiberal and anit-Democratic antics of the Axis of Unethical Conduct (“the resistance,” Democrats and the mainstream media) during their four-plus year effort to destroy Donald Trump. He has been remarkably consistent, legally accurate, fair, and right in this, and has paid the price.

In the Virtues, Values and Duties page here (Have you ever visited? You should you know…) I list what I call “The Seven Enabling Virtues.” These are character traits that often are necessary to allow us to be ethical:

  1. COURAGE
  2. FORTITUDE
  3. VALOR
  4. SACRIFICE
  5. HONOR
  6. HUMILITY
  7. FORGIVENESS

Turley annoys me sometimes with his professorial reserve (developments that should send American screaming into the streets are just “troubling” or “problematical” in his typical lexicon), but he is well-girded in all of the seven. Every time he goes against the prevailing progressive narrative, he is called a Trumpist, a phony, a Nazi, and worse. His integrity and dedication to truth-telling has undoubtedly cost him speaking gigs, book sales and TV interviews on any network but Fox. Yet Turley has not backed down.

Turley’s recent article in The Hill regarding the Babbitt shooting is superb.

Highlights:

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The Ashli Babbitt Cover-Up

Someone please explain how the closing of the investigation of the shooting of Ashli Babbitt can be reconciled with the sentence just handed down in the case of the Alabama officer who shot an allegedly suicidal man who would not drop his gun.

The US Capitol Police officer who shot and killed pro-Trump rioter Ashli Babbitt on January 6, 2020 will not face any disciplinary action. “USCP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) determined the officer’s conduct was lawful and within Department policy, which says an officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury,” the department said in a statement. The department will not name the officer out of consideration for the officer’s safety, although his name has been unofficially on the web for quite a while. If this is not a USCP double standard, it is certainly a journalism and political double standard. A black officer who shot an unarmed white women is protected with official anonymity while one white officer after another in police-involved shootings of black men have had their names not only released, but published and made the targets of attacks by elected officials.

Prof. Jonathan Turley, hardly a rabble-rouser, writes in damning prose:

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Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Unethical Tweet Of The Month: The Portland Police Bureau'”

Police Trust

Woke up with a bang this morning at 4:45 remembering that I hadn’t posted this Comment of the Day on this Comment of the Day, (by Extradimensional Cephalopod ) regarding the Ethics Alarms commentary about the Portland police staving off another police shooting riot with a tweet saying, in essence, “It’s OK, the guy we shot was white!”

Here it is, by Humble Talent, who included a wistful nod to departed but not forgotten EA commenter Charles Green. This is, I believe, Humble Talent’s 35th Comment of the Day.

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“The urge to do violence without having first gathered all relevant facts comes from fear, which comes from mistrust. In order to build trust, you first have to set mutual expectations, and then demonstrate you will fulfill them even when it’s costly.”

This is a great way to look at it. It’s kind of unfortunate that Charles Green left the site, because as stubbornly, blindingly, partisan as he is, he is literally in the business of building trust, and I think it would have been interesting to hear his take on what the first steps towards establishing trust would look like.

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Unethical Tweet Of The Month: The Portland Police Bureau

Portland tweet

There are many Ethics Alarms categories the tweet above would fit neatly into, like Ethics Dunce, Unethical Quote of the Week, evidence of The rampages of the Great Stupid, res ipsa loquitur, signature significance and others. I wonder if it is something else as well, like coherent civilization’s death rattle.

The Portland police felt constrained to issue that announcement after a police officer in Portland opened fire at a deranged man who charged him with a screwdriver. The man was shot dead in what all reports indicate was self-defense. This was apparently a “suicide by cop.” Quickly, at least 50 protesters converged at the Motel 6 where the episode occurred, and what looked like it could quickly turn into a violent riot was looming. The mob “began yelling, throwing items at officers, and attempting to interfere with the investigation,” Portland Police Bureau said. Videos showed many black-clad protesters chanting the anti-police phrase “Fuck 12.” A officer’s baton was grabbed as she was pulled toward the crowd; another protester sprayed an officer with pepper spray. One police car had its tires punctured and a window broken. Meanwhile, the Antifa distributed flyers calling the incident another example of racist police brutality against the black community.

So, acting quickly, the Portland police issued the tweet, assuring everyone that it was a white man who was killed. No worries! The nation was made just a little bit better and less racist. one more whitey down!

Naturally, the mob dispersed, and there was no more threatened violence.

The officer involved in the shooting was black. “Our officer encountered a very difficult and dynamic situation that no officer wants to face,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said at the scene.“I want to assure the community that we’re committed to a full, thorough and complete investigation.”

Hey, never mind, Chuck! The guy was white! Nobody cares.

When an officer shot a black teen preparing to stab another young woman with a knife, there was a riot. When police shot an accused black rapist who was armed with a knife and preparing to drive off with his alleged victim’s children, there were riots. When a black man resisting arrest was shot after trying to fire a taser at an officer, there were riots. When a black man who had tried to take an officer’s weapon away while resisting arrest was fatally shot as he rushed the much smaller officer, there were riots. When a black woman was accidentally shot in the cross-fire between police and her boyfriend began the exchange of bullets, there were riots.

But once the crack Portland Police made it clear that it was only some sick white dude who was killed, all was well.

Rueful observations:

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Observations On The Shooting Death Of Peyton Ham”

Steve-O-in NJ has stepped into a temporary (I hope) vacuum of ambitious comments to monopolize the COTD field. Steve is a lot more pessimistic than I am, and prone to Jeremiads (THE END IS NEAR!) but he also is willing to make observations that most are reticent to put into print. A few of you out there hang out on my Facebook page, where my alleged friends had a meltdown over a repeat of my musings here about whether Juror 8 in “12 Angry Men” would have bothered fighting for reasonable doubt in the trial of a defendant whom he thought was probably guilty if he knew that a not guilty verdict would trigger violent riots. How dare anyone suggest that there was reasonable doubt in the Chauvin trial? How dare anyone imply that the trial wasn’t fair!

Steve-O’s point about police being in an impossible position still applies to Derek Chauvin, cruel and untrustworthy cop that he undoubtedly was. Usually that impossible position girds police from conviction in all but the most egregious examples of police misconduct, as in the case of Michael Slager. I think the public’s acknowledgement of the dilemma is appropriate and generally ethical, but it is ready-made for accusations of racism when the victim is black.

Back to the post that sparked Steve’s COTD, “Ethics Observations On The Shooting Death Of Peyton Ham”, there has been no news coverage of Ham’s death for a week. He was 16, just like the girl shot in the act of trying to stab another teen in Columbus, Ohio, but nobody in Congress or anywhere else is arguing that his youth demanded restraint by police. The reason is that Peyton Ham was a white male, and Ma’Khia Bryant was a black female. The police were supposed to understand that different standards applied. (The photo above is of the Columbus riots in response to the girl’s shooting. Somehow I can’t locate any similar photos of the protests of Ham’s death.)

Here is Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day:

Policing in the United States is fast becoming a lose-lose proposition and a job fewer and fewer people are going to want. If you take action, you are considered a thug, a bully, and automatically a racist. If you take no action, you are either lazy or dead from the neck up and need to be fired. We’ve been over this half a dozen times since the death of George Floyd. Policing is by nature a dangerous and demanding job. Policing by nature sometimes requires split-second decisions which have a tiny margin for error and possibly grievous consequences if gotten wrong. Policing is not just about crossing schoolkids, directing traffic, getting lost children home, making reports of fender benders, and once in a while giving out a ticket to someone driving a little too fast or parked in a place clearly marked “no parking.”

Even in the safest small towns in America there are always going to be domestic violence calls, holdups, drunk and disorderly conduct, kids getting into drugs, or the mentally ill who do crazy things that endanger themselves or others. Like it or not, a big part of policing involves making unwilling individuals comply with lawful orders necessary to keep order. Sometimes there is no way to make that happen but to use force. Using force isn’t pretty. It’s not pretty to slam a violent husband or boyfriend down on the kitchen table and cuff him before he hits the woman in his life again. It’s not pretty to cuff a drug-addled, emaciated streetwalker who you’ve told to move along for the umpteenth time and been met with a torrent of profanity each time. It’s not pretty to throw a reeking homeless person who’s been harassing shoppers into the back of a police cruiser to take him somewhere where he can (hopefully) get the help he needs. And no, it’s not pretty to arrest some dreadlocked thug who’s spent his whole life doing nothing but commit crimes when he commits yet another one. It’s also not pretty when a hapless wife or girlfriend gets a broken jaw or a spiral fracture of the arm from a partner who she “just wouldn’t listen to.”

It’s not pretty when a family can’t walk down the street without seeing some skeletal prostitute shooting up. It’s not pretty when everyone has to avoid the block that “Crazy Joe” has claimed as his own. It’s not pretty when DeShawn, out of prison barely a week, sticks up a bodega with a gun or hits somebody over the head because he has no money and few prospects.

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Who Is Surprised To Hear That “Propaganda Causes People To Grossly Overstate Police Killings of Blacks”?

Who? Well, probably your friends on social media who think you’re a racist because you point out that Black Lives Matter is spreading lies and hate.

I read with interest this feature yesterday in my New York Times: “Few Charges, Fewer Convictions: The Chauvin Trial and the History of Police Violence.”

It covered two full pages—you know, it was important—and was pure propaganda: deliberately misleading, contoured to make a political argument under the guise of news analysis. I classify the reporters, Aidan Gardiner and Rebecca Halleck, as ethics villains, along with whatever editor gave a green light to publish this deliberate deceit.

It begins,

For many observers, the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, has felt like the culmination of years of outrage and grief over police killings of Black people in America. Video of the arrest that led to Mr. Floyd’s death inspired demonstrations that touched every corner of the country last summer, with protesters demanding justice for Mr. Floyd.

The Times reviewed dozens of similar cases in which encounters between Black people and police ended fatally. Though many cases prompted public outrage, that did not always translate to criminal indictments. In some cases, police officers were shown to have responded lawfully. In others, charges were dropped or plea agreements were reached. Some have resulted in civil settlements. But very few have resulted in convictions at trial.

These cases offer valuable points of comparison about what issues — video evidence, drug use, whether the person who died was armed — proved decisive in each outcome and what consequences, if any, officers faced. Even as the trial has unfolded, several events, including the killing of Daunte Wright just a few miles from Minneapolis, have provided a grim reminder that Mr. Floyd’s death is one in a decades-long history of fatal encounters.

Then we get a list of cases where blacks died as a result of police action. The facts of the cases are summarized briefly, often leaving out important facts. We are told, for example, the Eric Garner was “confronted” by police but not that he resisted arrest, nor that he weighed over 300 pounds. The Times reporters don’t deem it significant that Mike Brown tried to take away the officer’s gun, or that he was shot while charging the cop. In the case of Tamir Rice, the Cleveland 12-year-old shot while playing with a realistic toy gun that had its red tip removed, the article says that “a 911 caller reported seeing a person with a gun but said that it was ‘probably fake’ and that the person was ‘probably a juvenile,'” but does not add the crucial detail that these statements were not relayed to the officer.

I know most of the cases mentioned in the piece; for those I do not, I assume that I am being similarly misled. The Times isn’t reporting or doing legitimate analysis; this is advocacy, and unethical advocacy. Facts that would undermine the political agenda of the reporters, and by extension, the Times, are omitted. That is lying by omission.

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