This week has seen one awful event after another, so quick in succession that one barely has time to recoil, register, and digest one before the next one hit. The death of Alton Sterling on Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was followed on Wednesday by the death of Philando Castile in a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Both were black men killed by the police. Their deaths were caught on camera and caused widespread outrage. I have not watched the videos since I do not have the stomach to watch people die.
Then we had the shootout in Dallas on Thursday that resulted in five dead police officers.
As is almost always the case, the initial reports that emerged after Dallas were wrong. Those reports suggested that there was a team of snipers intent on starting some kind of race war. It now appears that there was just a lone gunman who had been in the military and thus had some weapons training but was not a sniper.
The mainstream media in the U.S. and abroad badly botched the reporting of the Dallas police shooting that killed five officers Thursday, egged on by speculation by police sources that a team of snipers was bent on avenging the killing of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana by white cops the day before.
The team-of-snipers theory, nonetheless, was repeated in media accounts, including with police-attributed information that multiple snipers positioned themselves on elevated ground to triangulate and hit their targets. What had happened instead was Johnson, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, used armed combat shooting techniques from a position on the ground to shoot cops one by one.
The irony is that, according to Radley Balko writing back in January of 2015, the Dallas police force was one of the few that had been trying to do things right when it came to police-community relations and indeed the Black Lives Matter protest that preceded the shooting had seen cordial relations between the police and the demonstrators with them taking selfies with each other.
Here at The Watch, we’ve praised Dallas Police Chief David Brown and his staff for the department’s community-oriented approach to policing, openness and transparency about excessive force, its rejection of law enforcement as a revenue generator, and its First Amendment-friendly approach to protest.
All of that said, in a free society we should want our law enforcement officers to use the least amount of force, confrontation and violence possible, while still maintaining an acceptable level of public safety. Dallas is just the latest evidence that the old song about freedom and security being a zero-sum game — that when you increase one, you’ll always get less of the other — is a canard. You can embrace policing policies that are community-friendly, open and transparent, and dedicated to minimizing the use of force and violence . . . and still enjoy the same or greater drops in crime we’re seeing elsewhere.
Over at Rolling Stone, Natasha Lennard writes that we should not draw the wrong lessons from this tragedy.
What I fear is that the deaths of the police will trigger the usual right-wing reaction of calls for ‘getting tough on crime’ which usually means the increased militarization of police department and harsh crackdowns, rather than a thoughtful exploration of the troubling question of how easy it is for one person in the US to create such carnage and what causes them to do so.