For nearly two decades the term “police violence” has bothered me. The term just never sounded right and never made any sense. Like nails on a chalkboard or grown men watching professional wrestling – something about it just didn’t seem right. The term strikes a cringeworthy level of dishonesty cloaked in the most awkward of white, woke virtue signals pulled from the most uninformed anti-police echo chambers.
Since the vast majority of use of force (including shootings) by police officers is in direct response to them being attacked while carrying out legitimate lawful duties – wouldn’t a more accurate term be “violence against police”, “police response to violence”, “police self defense”, or “police reasonably trying to not get shot in the face by violent maniacs and utilizing lawful force options to achieve that goal”?
I have loosely been kicking around these ideas for years and was motivated to write some of them down after listening to Drew Breasy Uncuffed on the On Being a Police Officer podcast (hosted by Abby Ellsworth).
General Thoughts on This Topic
The term “police violence” should be utilized for situations were police use of force is unlawful. For example, when speaking about the George Floyd or Walter Scott cases – that would be reasonable use of that term. However, why should a situation be labeled or classified by academics and media pundits as “police violence” when the use of force is lawful, reasonable, justified, and within the limits of policy and training?
Hands Up – Don’t Shoot (also. Don’t lie)
So, this is literally a case where everyone that has investigated it has concluded that the shooting was lawful – yet still this is listed as an example of “police violence” and even in 2020 NBA players wore the phrase “hands up don’t shoot” on the backs of their jerseys – even though the DOJ found that: Mr. Brown never said those words, never had his hands up, and was actively attacking Officer Wilson when the shooting occurred.
See why it is problematic and dishonest to classify lawful police use of force incidents as “police violence”?
Michael Brown attacked Officer Wilson and tried to grab his gun. This was an example of “violence against police” where thankfully the good guy came out on top. That is the truth and we should not be afraid to say it. Those who choose to reject this reality are akin to Q’Anon worshipping election deniers. #TrustTheScience
“End Police Brutality”
Like the phrase “black lives matter” the phrase “end police brutality” is not controversial. Literally no one is “pro police brutality” and every reasonable person believes that every life matters and that notion is thankfully cemented in U.S. law – that we all are required to be treated equally under the law.
People who hold signs at protests and exclaim “end police brutality” on social media literally have zero opposition. This is a good thing. We are all on the same side here. Police brutality by definition is illegal and immoral. Everyone should be (and generally are) opposed to it. However, the dishonesty here is two-fold:
- Anti-police activists pretend that some people are pro-police brutality.
- Anti-police activists enjoy lumping all police shootings and use of force incidents into the category of “police brutality” no matter what the facts of the individual cases are.
Every police use of force incident should be thoroughly investigated and judged on the specific set of facts and circumstances. A police officer in Rhode Island who utilized lawful force should not have their case be mixed in with an unlawful police shooting incident that happened 2000 miles away.
Placing any blame or linking anything negative to police officers who use reasonable force in response being attacked or to overcome resistance from lawful arrest is akin to blaming the victim of domestic violence for being beaten. Sure, you can blame the victim if you want – but the problem will continue to persist until the offender is forced to stop their unlawful actions.
Stats, Evidence, and Common Sense
632 of the people shot by police were listed as armed with a “gun”.
155 of the people shot by police were listed as armed with a “knife”.
Only 32 of the people shot by police were listed as completely “unarmed”.
Therefore, only .03% of all police shootings involved an “unarmed” person.
*It should also be noted that “unarmed” does not necessarily mean that these individuals were not dangerous or did not pose a deadly threat to police. For example, an “unarmed” offender who is in the process of trying to bash the officer in the head in an effort to steal the officer’s gun is (and should be viewed as) an immediate deadly threat by the officer in the moment.
A quick look at this data indicates that only 3% of people who are shot and killed by police were unarmed at the time of the shooting. So, in 97% of cases when police officers utilized deadly force – the offender was armed with a deadly weapon.
The idea that there is an epidemic of “police violence” plaguing our society is far less plausible when facts and evidence are introduced into the discussion. Dishonest anti-police activists rely on the lies of their loyal followers and on the ignorance of well-meaning citizens, who simply do not know any better.
However, the vast majority of police use of force incidents are objectively just simply not examples of “police brutality”. Use of force by police officers is almost always in response to individuals who are attacking police or resisting lawful arrest – and police officers respond in kind with proportional force options.
I am simply demanding that there be separate categories for these incidents. If a police officer commits a criminal act while using force – we will classify that as “police violence” and if a police officer does not commit a criminal act while using force – we will classify that as “lawful police response to being attacked” (3)
.And if anyone in the media or government intentionally misgenders these cases – the involved police officers should have the ability to seek damages.(4)
This article originally appeared at The Police Law News Substack.
- It is almost always men. Men commit 93% of all violent crime.
- 2. Data from the Washington Post “Fatal Force” Project on police shootings.3.
- Still not happy with any of the terms for this category. Looking for suggestions.
- Totally joking. Police officers are not even able to defend their own lives without the threat of prosecution or termination – let alone their personal reputations.