Sunday, January 29, 2023

Basic Civilization

      A routine traffic stop should not be a death sentence.  Even if the detainee panics.  (Yes, there is the rare low-probability stop of a fugitive bank robber or someone with a trunkload of high-value contraband that goes violently sideways).  And traffic stops probably shouldn't be fishing expeditions for police, because the skewed expectations on both sides that creates increase the odds of a bad outcome.

      There's a certain amount of victim-blaming going around over the Tyre Nichols killing, and it's pernicious.  In a police stop, one party* has essentially pledged to be the adult, and it's the sworn officer.  We should be able to reasonably expect that police will exercise mature judgement; once they have detained an individual, the officer is responsible for their welfare.  Nobody's got a beat-down coming from the police: punishment is the purview of the courts.  Even if the detainee freaks out and runs away, despite the degree of restraint and judgement this calls for on the part of the police.

      Too high a bar?  Tough.  That's the job, along with a belt-load of equipment, a radio to call for backup, the support of their fellow offers and qualified immunity -- in fact, because of all those things, because they walk among us with the backing of government, carrying all levels of force up to lethal with a remarkable degree of assurance it can be wielded with impunity, we expect police to behave with restraint.  When they do not, it is entirely proper that justice is swift and fair.

      Nobody has a beating coming from the police -- not the most innocent of drivers pulled over on vague suspicion or the worst violent offender caught bloody-handed.  Nobody should ever fear getting kicked by an arresting officer while his peers hold them down.  The police are not a street gang and shouldn't get away with acting like one.   In Memphis, they haven't.

      It saddens me to encounter a pro-police-beating contingent online.  Perhaps I should have expected them; too many people are missing the "good old days," when a man could beat his wife and police could dispense "street justice" with hardly an eye batted.  Those days were anything but good for many Americans, and we're not going back to them.

      (Update: I'm still getting comments about how Tyre Nichols deserved what he got, from online "experts" who apparently know more than the police chief or prosecutor, who think they know more about the man's injuries from a bit of video than the doctors who examined him in person.  Here's a tip: you don't.  If you want to get published here, you're going to have to come up with something more insightful than the same old tired excuses.)
* "Party" in this context has nothing to do with political parties.  It simply means the people involved, like "parties" to a contract or conversation.  The parties to an arrest are, at a minimum, the arresting officer(s) and the arrestee(s). I'm amazed to have to explain this, but see comments.


Cop Car said...

In particular I agree with your last sentence, "Those days were anything but good for many Americans, and we're not going back to them." I despair at people whose stated view is that they want to return to the Good Old Days of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s....They surely don't remember the needless deaths from lack of modern medicines, nor do they consider the plight of people of various skin hues or of women.

I have a lot of thoughts on police officers. In many cases, it's a fact that we get what we pay for in our police departments. We don't vet officers enough, we don't train them enough, and we don't pay them enough for risking their lives on our behalf. Maybe I delude myself, thinking that better vetting would produce an institution comprising adults. I should stop here before I get up a full head of steam and run out of electrons.

Arc Eye said...

Is this comparable to Ashley Babbit getting shot in the neck?All they had to do was comply.

Joe in PNG said...

There are too many people whose sole research into the history of law enforcement practices involves watching old episodes of the 'Andy Griffin Show'.

Roberta X said...

No, "Arc Eye," all Ms. Babbit had to do was not take part in a violent invasion of the U. S. Capitol building (which was at that time closed to the public), and, once inside, not go charging through a just-broken window towards a man with a drawn gun.

Meanwhile, Tyre Nichols was driving -- badly or well -- on a public road, at a time when the public could reasonably expect to be free to travel on such roads, and was pulled over by police.

Or did you mean to imply a black man ought not expect to travel freely on a city street at night, whereas a white woman taking part in unlawful entry had every right to be where she was?

The crowd in the U. S. Capitol had law enforcement outnumbered at better than ten to one at every point of contact. Mr. Nichols was outnumbered by law enforcement seven to one at the time of his death. In which of these two situations might a reasonable observer reasonably conclude that law enforcement could have had some justification for the use of deadly force?

I'm sick and tired of bullshit sophistry in the service of white nationalism. Take it somewhere else. Nobody here is buying it.

RandyGC said...

The theory of why we need a "professional" police force is to avoid the excesses of vigilante justice. The cops are supposed to be here as much to protect the criminals from the citizens as vice versa.

When it gets so you can't tell the vigilantes from the police, society is in a very dangerous place.

Joe in PNG said...

Change the outfits, and it could easily be Alex & his Droogies, or a group of Russian FSB after a protestor, a pack of Brownshirts in 1932, or some Narcos in Mexico.
Same basic thing, really, and something that is actually against the philosophy behind the founding of the USA.

Goober said...

I'm so absolutely tired of people saying things like "well, he shouldn't have X and then he wouldn't have GOTTEN BEATEN TO DEATH by the police".

Or comparing it to Ashley Babbit. Or LaVoy Finicum.

Look, folks, you're saying it's bad that Ashli got shot. You're saying that it's bad that LaVoy got shot, too. So using them as examples of why it's OK that Tyre got BEATEN TO DEATH by the police is a logical non-sequitur.

Tyre got stopped by a plain clothes officer. By all accounts, he wasn't certain that it was a plain clothes officer, and so he de-assed himself from a situation that may very well have been a smart situation to de-ass himself from.

But I don't care if he out-and-out RAN FROM UNIFORMED COPS, he didn't deserve to be beaten to death for it. There's no excuse for this. There's no equivocation, comparison, explanation, or otherwise that makes this OK.

And anyone comparing this to Finicum or Babbit is simply forwarding a literal White Supremacist talking point - you're only OK with police killing people if they're black.

Because Ashli and LaVoy both defied police, ran from police, physically assaulted police, etc, and you say "it's wrong that they were shot". Tyre, from all accounts, ran away from what was a very ambiguous and gray situation, and got beaten to death for it.

Goober said...

ARCEYE - "All they had to do was comply"


Next time some random, out-of-uniform guy pulls up to you in the dark, you make sure to comply, ok? Don't you dare question said rando. Just do as you're told.

Archer said...

That's the job, along with a belt-load of equipment, a radio to call for backup, the support of their fellow offers and qualified immunity....

IANAL, but it appears that qualified immunity might be taking a hit on this one. One of the charges being filed is aggravated kidnapping -- kidnapping using a deadly weapon.

The deadly weapon(s) in question? The officers' department-issued sidearms, among other issued gear.

IOW, they're being charged just the same as if you or I had done what they did.

Thus it would seem that qualified immunity is, at least in part, not being applied here.

The part the drives me nuts is all the vultures coming out of the woodwork to make this about skin color. The conversation should be about why the police are arresting a dude for "reckless driving" -- a citable offense in my AO, not an arrestable one unless someone gets hurt -- and when and why it became preferable to beat a man to death to effect an arrest rather than get his license plate number and follow up later under less stressful conditions.

Roberta X said...

Archer: "Vultures?" What?

There are, in fact, documented racial disparities in outcomes from encounters with police: no matter what color the officer(s) may be, white detainees have a greater chance of surviving unscathed than non-white ones. That said, it's still pretty safe for anyone -- but it's a lot less likely to go badly sideways if you're pale. And this can become self-fulfilling: everyone brings different expectations to getting stopped by the police, and if you grew up hearing about people who look like you getting a tough time from Johnny Law, you're not going to have the same expectation as someone to whom it will be no more than a mildly embarrassing traffic ticket at worst.

So there's over-policing, there's the use of traffic stops to probe for felony crimes, there's excessive force and the deadly confidence that such behavior is A-okay with higher-ups; and then there's the angle that a person of color is more likely to be stopped ("DWB")and more likely to have trouble if they are. It's all part of the problem, and it is probably not all going to get fixed at the same time or very quickly; but we're better off looking at all the parts of it and trying to work on the easiest-to-reach parts first. Like, oh, I don't know, firing the offenders and hauling them into court.

Roberta X said...

Commenters, let's mind the language and argue ideas instead of dreaming up epithets. No name-calling, no insulting figures of speech, no arguing side issues, etc. Not everything is making it past my comment-management, so look at what is (some of it a little over the edge) and consider what ain't. Don't be that guy.

This is my blog and my freedom of speech. You're guests here. If that's too repressive, blogs were still free for the asking, last time I checked, and you can have your very own.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your excellent handling of this subject.

Anonymous said...

One party? This is why we see a collapse of civilization and the rise of savages. I am so sick of people like you. No one we see such savage behavior like a 6 year shooting a teacher or the weekly sacrifice of a commuter in the NYC subways or the 50 plus shooting in Chicago, Because one party is supposed to be an adult?

Roberta X said...

Anon 3:50 PM: You have misunderstood the word in this context. It has nothing to do with political parties. The arresting officer(s) and arrestee(s) are the parties involved in the arrest. Only one of those two parties has sworn -- literally! -- to behave as a responsible adult.

People who are "sick of people like me" over this kind of mistake on their part probably should have been paying more attention in their English classes. I'm not writing for the peanut gallery.

Roberta X said...

To the unpublished commentator who admonished me to "Get off your emotional soapbox," take a look around. This blog actually is *my* soapbox. I'm not stepping down.

As for "emotional" if it's "emotional" to expect sworn officers to behave responsibly and reasonably, why, call me emotional -- me and most judges, me and most police chiefs, me and most police officers, me and most citizens. Our public safety officers are not an occupying army. Some forces, some specialized units, some individual officers have been getting away with acting like one, but that doesn't make it right. -- and doing "more of the same, only harder" will not improve matters.

This is not to say that I think it's okay that other citizens treat police disrespectfully or with hostility; but trust and respect must be earned, and once lost, they are difficult to establish. Yep, that cuts both ways -- but the sworn officer is supposed to be setting a good example. This is indeed idealistic, optimistic and very much more a goal and a process than a thing that we'll ever get 100% (or ever had 100%) but if we are not striving to do better, we can be assured we'll get worse.

A random traffic stop should not end in the detainee being beaten to death by multiple officers. When it happens, the situation was clearly out of control. That's lousy police work, no matter how you slice it.

Elmuertonegro said...

Reading comments from all sides of this makes me morun for our future.

Living Truth said...

If you want to take a serious look at the effects of qualified immunity for law enforcement have a look every Friday at “Short Circuit” at the Volokh Blog on It is a weekly digest of significant Federal Court decisions that frequently has QI cases. The wide latitude given to law enforcement via QI is startling, meaning that LE rarely has to answer in Court for what they decide to do during a stop, a search, or pretty much anything else in their orbit. The Memphis LE prosecutions are extremely rare; if you look at the QI decisions coming out of the Federal Courts that involve police-inflicted violence on citizens that involve petty offenses, unconstitutional searches, LE mistakes and so on the savvy citizen needs to be on their toes when interacting with LE.

QI is horrible, but looks like it is here to stay. I’ve preached to my children for years that when LE stops them LE “owns” them. Tell LE up front that they control the stop, you will cooperate, ask for permission for everything you do before you do it, and be a picture of total compliance. The idea is that you want to end the encounter quickly and leave the scene intact.

Then hope for the best….

Is this ideal? Of course not, but it is reality.

ASM826 said...

Linked to this post From Borepatch

Anonymous said...

You had me agreeing with you about the events surrounding Mr Nichols until I read your BS about Ms Babbit and the Jan 6 event. If you want people to respect your view, seek truth in everything. Your leftist democrat points are disgusting.

Roberta X said...

Anon 11:44, I've been a consistent Libertarian voter for most of my life. I watched the live coverage of the events of 6 January and my conclusions are not "leftist democrat points." Having illegally entered the U. S. Capitol as part of a mob armed with various blunt-force instruments, she was the first through an internal barrier her follow rioters had broken, and proceeded despite spoken warnings and a drawn weapon on the part of a law enforcement officer. If it had happened at a City Hall during a BLM-connected riot, would you still imply it was wrong? If similar events happened in your home and your finger was on the trigger, would you consider the shooting justified or murder?

Use-of-force guidelines are not unclear in this kind of situation. I continue to be amazed that only one of the would-be insurrectionists of 6 Jan was shot. --And I'm surprised they never laid hands on any members of the House or Senate. That day could have been a great deal worse, but the ultimate outcome was never in doubt.

Mr. Trump lost the 2020 Presidential election and while he is unlikely to ever accept that, the GOP had damned well better, and their leading lights should set their sights on winning elections instead of waging a nonsensical "culture war" that only serves to divide Americans from one another. It's time to grow up.