American Death Squads? Terrence Crutcher and Compliance.

Another day, another police execution of an unarmed black male, this time with his hands unmistakably up, and captured on video from multiple angles.

My initial take on it was to to tweet/Facebook the following:

“He complied…but still died…”

The idea behind that is of course that a number of people tend to excuse the actions of police when they kill unarmed black people by offering the following bit of supposedly helpful advice—“If only the unarmed black person would have complied with the officer’s orders, he’d still be alive.”

Except here, in the case of Terrence Crutcher, we see that such is not necessarily true, as it also wasn’t true in the case of Charles Kinsey, the black Florida mental health worker who was lying down on the ground with his hands up and visible, unarmed, yet was still shot by police.

It wasn’t true in the case of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by an officer in Minnesota while reaching for his ID, per officer’s orders.

As cases like these continue to emerge, the question becomes obvious: Have the police essentially become American death squads? This is in no way meant to downplay or trivialize the horror of political death squads in El Salvador and other places.

But consider the first part of the Wikipedia definition of the term “death squad”:

“A death squad is an armed group that conducts extrajudicial killings…”

When the police, an armed group, kill an unarmed person like Terrence Crutcher, that is the very definition of an “extrajudicial” killing.  “Extrajudicial” simply means:

“done in contravention of due process of law”

When you have the police acting as judge, jury, and executioner—as has been the case in a number of these shootings–that is a denial of due process of law.  It is the exact opposite of the way that the American system of justice is supposed to work.

We can reach the conclusion that the police are acting as American death squads–per the definitions above–with a minimum of controversy when we consider the case of West Virginia officer Stephen Mader, the officer who was fired for not killing a suspect.

You may recall the details—Mader responded to a call from the victim’s girlfriend saying that the victim was threatening to kill himself.  When Mader showed up, the victim had a gun, but he wasn’t pointing it at Mader.  The victim told Mader to shoot him, and Mader said, “I’m not going to shoot you, brother”—and Mader kept his word.  Unfortunately, two other officers then showed up, and the victim flashed the gun in their direction, and he was shot without hesitation.  Mader was then fired because he did not shoot the suicidal man—the official explanation was that Mader “failed to eliminate a threat.”  The only problem with that assessment?  The victim’s gun wasn’t even loaded.

What are they so afraid of?

So it turns out that there actually was no threat, neither to Mader nor to the officers who did kill the suicidal man.  But that is the key—the police are taught to believe that the public at large is a threat, whether they have a gun or not, or whether it is loaded or not.  And that the threat must be eliminated.  In other words,  the police department (at least this one in West Virginia) wants extrajudicial killings to take place.

The public is also taught to believe that there are constant threats of violent crime, even though violent crime is way down compared to past decades.  As the Washington Post reports:

“This decline in gun violence is part of an overall decline in violent crime. According to the FBI’s data, the national rate of violent crime has decreased 49 percent since its apex in 1991. Even as a certain type of mass shooting is apparently becoming more frequent, America has become a much less violent place.”

So what are the cops so afraid of?  Or why do they say they’re so afraid?  Why do the cops seem to perceive a phantom threat that statistically speaking, isn’t there?  Or why do they want us, the general public, to believe that such as threat is there?

Why is it that, as the public has become less violent, the cops have become more violent?  To put it another way, it is the cops who are out of control, not the public.

Why was Crutcher executed?  After all, there was nothing going on to make the cops think anything untoward was happening–no gun visible, no one complaining of being harmed by Crutcher, no visible signs of anything awry. Just a guy with a car stalled in the middle of the road (which is why the cops were dispatched to the scene).  A big black guy.   And he very well may have been giving the cops some attitude, like “Why do you guys have a bunch of guns on me? I’m telling you, my car just stalled out. Watch, I’ll show you, it won’t even start…”  But that doesn’t mean he deserved to be executed.

Indeed, the cops could have retreated if they actually felt threatened. There was no apparent reason to take Crutcher into custody immediately.  But for some reason, they wouldn’t back off long enough to assess what was actually going on.  The cops and their defenders would like us to believe that it is entirely possible—and totally plausible—that Crutcher did have a big gun in his car and was reaching for it, even though statistically, that is way less likely than it would have been decades ago.

However, if that had been the case—and it wasn’t; Crutcher had no gun in his raised hands or in the car—the second the cops see it, they light him up. They’ve already got the drop on him. They’re trained. He presumably isn’t. They can afford to wait until they actually see a gun. That’s what we’re paying them for.

Or that’s what we think we’re paying them for.  The cops, though, seem to think they are a death squad, as evidenced by the case of Stephen Mader.  They literally think that they should shoot first, ask questions later.

I’m not at all comfortable with this state of affairs, and I’m shocked at people that are.  And there are quite a few people who think that way, who say that, “Well, if you don’t follow a cop’s orders to the letter, you’re gonna get shot and deservedly so.”  They think that  we are put on this earth to obey cops.

We are not, and we must remind the cops and their cheerleaders of that fact.

About eggsistense

Writer, musician, cartoonist, human being
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4 Responses to American Death Squads? Terrence Crutcher and Compliance.

  1. David says:

    He absolutely did not comply. He was walking AWAY from the cops towards his vehicle. Why didn’t he just stop in his tracks and listen to the officers??? It’s shameful to deny the part he played in his own demise….stop blaming police.

  2. eggsistense says:

    Well, it looks like the police are now blaming the police, since the officer that shot Crutcher has now been charged with first degree manslaughter. I doubt she’ll be convicted, but still, being charged is at the very least a token acknowledgment that there was no reason to execute Crutcher like a dog in the street. It’s also very telling that Shelby fired a gun while almost simultaneously another officer on the scene tased Crutcher. They were both facing the exact same situation, evaluating the same behavior of the same person, in real time. Yet they deployed different degrees of force. That does not speak well for Betty Shelby. http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/22/us/tulsa-officer-charged/

  3. eggsistense says:

    And on that last point, it would appear that the officer who tased Crutcher rather than fired a gun at him agrees with me, not with you, David. That officer agreed, in that split second, that Crutcher didn’t deserve to die, or even be shot, which is my whole point. You seem to want to rush to the conclusion that because Crutcher was shot and killed by a police officer, then Crutcher’s death is automatically, prima facie justified. Apparently, an officer who was there on the scene disagrees with you.

  4. eggsistense says:

    I would love to hear your thoughts on why one officer thought “taser” while Shelby thought “gun.” I would love to hear your explanation of that discrepancy. Presumably, both Shelby and her fellow officer had the same training. They were both undoubtedly aware of the recent atmosphere surrounding encounters between police and people of color, both where the cops were the shooters and where the cops were victims. Yet they reacted to the same situation very differently.

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