The increase has largely been attributed to ambush attacks against police officers. We can’t say that the deaths were a direct result of anything that the President did, but his proclaimed support of law enforcement rings hollow because of the basic misunderstanding of violence in policing shared by much of the public that has been indoctrinated to believe that most uses of force, including deadly force by police are excessive and unnecessary.
Discerning what is unlawful conduct during a violent encounter is, in fact, often more complex than first appearances convey. The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and the beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis in 2023 are not the same. Yet President Biden invited the parents of both of these men to hold seats of honor during the State of the Union address. Treating these two cases as holding the same meaning for society is a tragic torture of perception with far-reaching consequences.
Brown’s day started with a quest to steal cigars for mixing with marijuana. Entering a convenience store where a lone, older Asian man staffed the counter, Brown picked up a box of cigars and began to leave the store without paying for them. When the clerk attempted to stop him, Brown – described routinely as a teenager but with an imposing stature – shoved the man and left the store, turning the theft into a strong-arm robbery.
Sulking along the roadway, Brown was told by a passing police officer to step out of the street. The forensic evidence examined ad nauseam, verified the officer’s statement that Brown violently assaulted the officer and attempted to disarm him, then fled. The officer, having been the subject of a felonious attack, pursued Brown on foot in order to take him into custody rather than let the violent attacker remain loose in the neighborhood. Brown continued to resist the lawful arrest of the officer to the extent that the officer resorted to deadly force.
The narrative that erupted after the shooting was patently false. The story that Brown was callously executed with his hands up in surrender has been thoroughly crushed but persists in the minds of many. The physical evidence, including multiple autopsies, was investigated by multiple agencies which included a grand jury, and at no point was the officer found to have used unlawful, unjustifiable deadly force.
Even in the face of microscopic examination, the lie of “hands up don’t shoot’ and the mythology of a victimized teen on the cusp of learning a trade shot for being a black jaywalker has kept Brown and his family on a pedestal of heroic and tragic victimization.
The Nichols case in Memphis still has many unknowns, such as the basis for the reckless driving stop claimed by the officers, but Nichols apparently unfortunately fled after a pursuit. In the best assessment of every police expert I know, the final takedown and subsequently brutal attack on Nichols bore no signs of justification or rudimentary sound tactics for even resistive subjects. It is likely that the assault and murder charges against the officers will be sustained at trial.
Mr. Nichols and Mr. Brown are not in the same club. While in no way a defense of the handful of Memphis officers, we have to find our President’s statement inflammatory, that the beating was “yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day.” What they and all Americans fear is crime, Mr. President, and you have indicted all police officers as criminal co-conspirators. America needed soothing words, perhaps understandable outrage and grief, but not a splash of hyperbolic gasoline on all police officers. Let’s fix what is broken, not break what we’re fixing.
This article originally appeared at the National Police Association.