Friday, March 26, 2010

Who Decides Who Is Expendable?

Earlier this week in Portland, Jack Collins, a homeless man going through a mental health crisis, was shot four times by Officer Jason Walters. Jack bled to death. An Oregon public radio show, Think Out Loud discussed the issue, wondering about police force. My response is this:

The problem I see is not with a policeman in a particular situation, but how police are trained in general. They are trained to offer security, both for "citizens" and themselves. But they are also trained to fire on any threats, or "bad guys". I am simplifying a great deal here, but I have seen a number of police at work in different situations with the homeless. The homeless are not treated as citizens. As a pastor whose congregation is homeless, I have had a police officer tell me, "We don't care about these people, we just want to make sure that you and your staff are safe."

Thus, some people are expendable. Police officers aren't, because they "contribute." But the homeless and the mentally ill are. So if it comes down to an officer dealing with fear or with killing a homeless man, there is no option. The homeless man is expendable and there is a slight risk to the officer, therefore the homeless man must be shot four times.

They need to train officers to not fear such situations, but to be ready for them. They need to be trained to treat all people with respect, even if they don't understand what they are doing. They need to be trained to be flexible.

I could have gotten the knife off of that man without anyone being hurt, in all probability. The officer perhaps couldn't have, certainly not with him shouting at him. The only difference is our training and experience. If the officer had different training, perhaps another citizen could still be alive.

No comments: