I was listening to a report on NPR about the problem of police are reacting with overwhelming force in so many situations that do not warrant it, and in the process shooting and killing people who later turn out to be quite innocent.
What shocked me about the story was the statement by one veteran police officer who felt that the intimidating gear and weaponry and tough attitude should be maintained and he disapproved of the moves to make the police seem less threatening to people, saying “I think an officer will eventually get killed.”
And I think that this is the problem. He seems to think that the first duty of police officers is to protect themselves, not the public. He seems to feel that it is ok if innocent people get killed in order to create zero risk for police. But why would you sign up for a dangerous profession if your first instinct is self-preservation? The motto of some police departments is “To Protect And Serve”. Protect whom? If your job is to protect others, that means taking on some risk to yourself.
Seeking to have zero risk to themselves inevitably results in a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy, and leads to the many tragedies we now have. I am not suggesting that police not take reasonable steps to protect themselves. But they are signing up for a dangerous job and there is always some risk involved in not being too quick to protect oneself.
This is why we see these terrible tragedies of homeowners with guns shooting innocent people out of a misguided fear that they were in danger. I do not own a gun. Hence I am putting myself at some risk from some intruder. But if I had a gun, there is a danger that I too might kill some person who did not intend me any harm.
The same zero-risk mentality has permeated other areas too. Nowadays a US president has to think carefully before sending in soldiers to fight in wars because of the risk of them being killed or injured. But sending in unarmed drones? Sure, why not? As long as there is no risk to US soldiers and pilots, and the only people who get killed and injured are those in other countries who belong to a different tribe from us, people seem to be quite unconcerned.