This unfortunate trend continues. Following the grand jury decisions against indictments of police officers who killed Michael Brown in Feguson and Eric Garner in New York, a white police officer has shot an unarmed black man in Arizona. The only thing he was found to be carrying was a bottle of Oxycontin.
A Justice Department investigation found that the Cleveland police were too quick to use deadly force.
The growing distrust between Cleveland police and the communities they serve can be attributed in part to how quickly officers draw their weapons without trying to use words to calm tense situations, according to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police.
In addition to finding that police often fire their weapons recklessly, the report called out police for using deadly force or less lethal force as their first approach rather than a last resort, even in cases where a suspect is mentally disabled.
“We…discovered that officers do not effectively de-escalate situations, either because they do not know how, or because they do not have an adequate understanding of the importance of de-escalating encounters before resorting to force whenever possible,” the report says.
These practices have become routine in a police culture that encourages using force as punishment – a pattern that’s not only illegal but also puts a strain on police-citizen relations, according to the Justice Department.
The law allows police to use deadly force when their lives or the lives of others around them are in danger, but the Justice officials slammed Cleveland police for shooting at or using other means of physical coercion against people who were not a threat.
Why would we expect Cleveland to be any different from what is sure looking like a disturbing national trend?
David Boez of the Cato Institute hopes that incidents such as the killing of Eric Garner lead to an “American Spring,” including protests against not only police killings but other laws opposed by libertarians: “Let’s hope this coming spring brings a wave of police reform in the United States, and also a reconsideration of the high taxes, prohibitions, and nanny-state regulations that are making so many Americans technically criminals and exacerbating police-citizen tensions.”
While liberals might not share libertarian objection to many of these regulations on the same philosophical grounds as libertarians, the fact remains that there are adverse consequences, such as the killing of Eric Garner, when police devote resources to the enforcement of petty offenses. The New York Times also saw this connection:
The Garner killing must lead to major changes in policy, particularly in the use of “broken windows” policing — a strategy in which Officer Pantaleo specialized, according to a report in September by WNYC, which found that he had made hundreds of arrests since joining the force in 2007, leading to at least 259 criminal cases, all but a fraction of those involving petty offenses. The department must find a better way to keep communities safe than aggressively hounding the sellers of loose cigarettes.
And while defenders of the police like to point to thousands of nonfatal misdemeanor arrests as evidence that officers are acting in a way that is reasonable and safe, there can never be a justification for any lethal assault on an unarmed man, no justification for brutality.