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Snipers Kill Five Policemen in Dallas at Protest Rally

2016-07-08

Details are sketchy, but it is known that five police officers were killed, seven were wounded, and two civilians also were hit.  The attack occurred at the end of a peaceful rally and march in downtown Dallas, about 8:58 PM, according to the New York Times (NYT.)  About 800 demonstrators and 100 police were at the rally, which was otherwise completely peaceful.  Police said four snipers participated in the attack; one was killed by a remote-controlled bomb after a standoff, but three others were taken into custody.

The NYT says that this is the worst attack on police since the 9/11/2001 incident.  Police should not feel especially endangered as the score so far this year is some 123 black people shot dead by police, while there are over 300 million firearms in private and police hands in this country.  The presence of so many firearms makes everyone unsafe, and the police are relatively less affected by this violence although they surely feel under siege.  While incidents such as this small massacre shock the community, massive incidents in places such as Baghdad receive little notice: some 250 people were killed in a bombing in the capital of Iraq just a few days ago, with little comment from officials in this country.

This escalation of violence by civilians is shocking and disgusting but there is nothing surprising about it.  There are so many firearms available that anyone with a grudge will have easy access to the right weapon for an ambush.  What makes this massacre so disturbing is that the police will use it as an excuse to violate the civil rights of every American whom they encounter.  Prior experience leads us to conclude that the police will think everyone who is not lily white is a suspect.

This tragedy will only lead to more tragedies.  The risk of a spiral of violence is very real.  Everyone who is affected by this should step back and try to de-escalate their violent feelings.  Anyone who owns a weapon should put it in the closet.  There is no need for anyone to carry a weapon for protection and there is little possibility of being able to use it for appropriate self-defense.  It is much more likely that you will mistakenly perceive a threat and respond inappropriately.

Just having a weapon in your hand makes everyone around you suspect and everything you encounter translates into a threat.  The hammer analogy is fitting here: if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything around you looks like a nail.  This is part of the policeman’s problem: just having a handgun makes a policeman feel threatened.  Now policemen will demand automatic weapons because they “need” them for self-defense, and police shootings will only increase.

The only way to stop this cycle of violence is for basic training of policemen to change dramatically.  The police must be taught not to approach ordinary citizens with their guns drawn, expecting a fight.  It is not appropriate to be on maximum alert when approaching a citizen who is not displaying any aggressive signs.   Surely a policeman can be prepared to defend himself without being on a hair-trigger.

For example, in the incident a couple of days ago where a black man was shot in his car after being stopped for a broken tail-light, the police approached the man’s car with their weapons drawn and immediately demanded that the car’s occupants raise their hands and keep them in the air.  At the same time, they demanded that the driver produce his license and registration.  Before they even got to the car, they were in a heightened state of alert and paranoia.  When the driver mentioned that he had a legal gun, they misinterpreted this as an emergent threat because they were already paranoid.  When he reached for his license, they thought he was going for his gun, even though they were the ones who demanded that he produce his license.

I think that just telling the policemen that he had a gun got him killed, because he was black and they were paranoid about black men.  This is inexcusable and the shooter should face jail time for his murderous act.  If the policeman is not prosecuted, this will only prove to the black community (and to many whites) that the justice system is broken.

At the same time, people who lash out at the police are only making matters worse for ordinary law-abiding citizens, who will bear the brunt of a crackdown on everyone.  Lawful protest is necessary and appropriate, but shooting people is murder no matter who does it.

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