A few days ago in Birmingham, Alabama, a detective was on his way to interview a witness to a robbery. He saw an SUV with two people in it driving erratically and made a traffic stop. He told the driver to stay in the car. The detective called for another officer to take over so that he could get to his witness interview. As he was on the call, the driver exited the car against the officer’s directive. The driver became aggressive, rapidly approached the detective and demanded to know why he was stopped. The detective considered using force to subdue the driver but quickly decided against it. The driver then sucker punched the detective, took his service revolver and pistol whipped him, beating him until he was unconscious. The detective was sent to the hospital with a bloody head injury that required 15-17 stitches. The driver fled the scene.
After the attack, bystanders did not come the aid of the officer. They stood around laughing and taking pictures. They posted the pictures on line with accompanying commentary.
“Pistol whipped his ass to sleep,” one user wrote, employing the hashtag #FckDaPolice. Another mockingly offered the officer milk and cookies for his “nap time.”
The driver, identified as Janard Cunningham, has a violent criminal history, including a conviction for assault. He was apprehended and charged with attempted murder. No bond was set.
The detective later reported that he hesitated to use force because he didn’t want to be accused of needlessly killing an unarmed man. He said:
“A lot of officers are being too cautious because of what’s going on in the media,” said the officer, who asked to remain anonymous for the safety of his family. “I hesitated because I didn’t want to be in the media like I am right now.”
The spokesman for the police union, Sergeant Heath Boackle, said the officers are walking on egg shells now because of how they are being scrutinized in the media. The police chief, A.C. Roper, said:
“The nobility and integrity of policing has been challenged,” Roper said. “As a profession, we have allowed popular culture to draft a narrative which is contrary to the amazing work that so many officers are doing everyday across this nation.”
Nearly every high-profile incident in the news recently where an officer killed an unarmed person, was preceded by the officer perceiving a threat. The officer perceived a threat because the person being questioned, detained, or apprehended RESISTED. The more the media keeps maligning police and skewing the facts, the more emboldened people will be to resist mere interaction, let alone arrest. This incident shows how much harm an unarmed man can do, and it could have been much worse.
Lack of training for the police has been cited as the root cause of this problem. It is not the police who need training – it is society. The situation will only improve when people start respecting the police. Remove “resisting” from the situation and none of these deaths would have happened.
If a police officer has wrongly detained, arrested, or even interacted with a person the proper legal remedy is to make a complaint – not try to run away, fight, drive off, ignore, or verbally shout down the officer. That will only lead to escalation of the situation – in accordance with police training, more force will be introduced into the situation. Maybe making a complaint sounds like it could be a weak process – something that would get ignored or brushed under the rug? Perhaps, but it’s a lot better than being dead.
The deference shown to police officers should not be blind, and if an officer’s actions show he is not fit for service he should be removed from his position. But until that showing, respect is necessary for society to run peacefully. Police that hesitate in their duties do not fulfill their obligation to society. People need to be secure in the knowledge that police will come their aid without hesitation. Respect also helps to ensure the bad guys are easily detectable making it easier for police to know when to use force. A person resisting arrest inserts an unknown variable into the situation; the officer has to resort to worst case scenario – that’s what his training tells him. He does not waive his own right to self defense despite pledging to serve to protect the lives of others.
When a segment of society decides to erode the social compact that says innocent people will act in a peaceful way, they make it less safe for everyone. In this case, that segment of society includes both the people disrespecting police and resisting arrest, but also the media who create and perpetuate lies.
Becoming a police officer is an honorable decision. The vast majority of officers deserve to be rewarded with respect for that decision, since they definitely aren’t getting rich. Sgt. Boackle summed it up, “We don’t do it for money . . . . We do it as a calling.”