As we once again have watched a violent police encounter resulting in a tragic death move through the U.S. justice system, I seem to have more questions than answers.
A majority of Americans believe the jury “got it right” in the Chauvin case. However, a recent poll suggests that only 55% of self-proclaimed Republicans believe the verdict was the correct one. Whether one believes the verdict was right or wrong, I find myself wondering how much of the evidence we were actually able to view.
These tragic cases happen all too often, and I find myself wondering what would happen if such an incident ever occurred locally. I have spoken with both Janesville and Beloit police chiefs often about these types of incidents and our preparedness for them. This leads to an explanation of policing and how these situations unfold in the blink of an eye. That a truly proper investigation requires much more understanding, discussion and evidence than a simple cellphone video.
Chief Dave Moore of Janesville and newly installed Chief Andre Sayles of Beloit both focus on intense training of our local forces, with deescalation of tense situations being one of the most important priorities. I applaud such training. All too often, most of us react with strong emotions when confronted by a situation we deem unfair to us. Officers are now continually coached on how to avoid that natural reflex reaction.
My experience (which I must admit I failed at more than succeeded) in trying to remain rational while being bombarded with irrational behavior comes from dealing with our young children.
Temper tantrums happened frequently. There were times I was prepared and there were times when, unfortunately, I took the bait and made things worse. Today, police officers are not allowed that margin of error.
Any situation that escalates could become the next national flash point if force is used. I ask myself whether it is reasonable to ask these mothers and fathers who put their lives on the line for our community’s safety to never, ever make one single mistake in their assessment of an evolving situation.
Is it reasonable to ask a law enforcement officer to wait to be shot at before using force in order to be certain the suspect has an actual weapon or intended to cause harm to that officer?
Is it now OK to present only the sensational aspects of such tragedy on media platforms and try the case in the media before ever learning the complexity of that situation and the thought processes of both the suspect and the officer?
My answer to all those questions is no, I do not believe it is reasonable. But we are no longer a reasonable population.
For as many times as I have had the leaders of our local law enforcement communities speak at length about the amount of training and practice officers receive, for as much as that is probably an applauded and accepted policy of our local law enforcement agencies, and as much as I would like to believe that America’s justice system still rests on a foundational principle of being innocent until proven guilty, I find myself looking at the protests, the riots, the violence and social media and being afraid the real battle is already lost.
Perhaps it is not only the law enforcement officials who need training on how to manage tense situations and try to deescalate them. Maybe the public needs that training, too.