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August 14th, 2014
After Ferguson, Then What?
Cheye Calvo was the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, in 2008 when law enforcement officers raided his home as part of a botched drug raid. The mayor and his mother-in-law were held at gunpoint, and officers shot and killed the mayor’s two dogs—one while it was trying to escape to safety. If this story is unfamiliar to you, read Radley Balko’s summary here.
Calvo and his mother-in-law were completely innocent, and the officers involved in the raid faced no repercussions. The Sheriff was even so bold as to say that “we’d do it again. Tonight.”
The mayor began lobbying the state legislature for reform, and succeeded in passing a bill that would bring a bit of transparency to law enforcement. It required every Maryland police agency with a SWAT team to periodically issue a report on how many times the team was deployed, whether shots were fired, the nature of the alleged crime, etc. It did not enact any restrictions on law enforcement activity, yet it was opposed by every police organization in the state. Still, it passed. Crisis paved the path for reform.
I share this story because a similar situation is unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police, sparking riots and protests in the small city. The conflict has significantly escalated, and peaceful protestors and reporters alike are being targeted and arrested by police officers eager, it seems, to shield their activity from public scrutiny.
After the proverbial (and literal) smoke clears, then what? As tragic as Brown’s shooting is, it’s not unique—people are harmed and killed every day by law enforcement officers. District Attorney Sim Gill recently said, at our Fourth Amendment Forum, that “When you fail to hold bad officers accountable, good officers suffer.” So how should we hold bad officers accountable? What reforms are needed? And more importantly, will there even be an attempt for substantive reform?
Millions of Americans watch the footage from Ferguson outraged, and their slacktivism leads them to share updates on Facebook and Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, it’s a good thing to widely disseminate details of what’s going on. But if that’s all that’s done, then an opportunity has been lost. Brown’s death, while tragic, should serve as a catalyst for necessary reform.
That’s what happened in Utah. The shootout between Matthew David Stewart and police officers over a few plants turned our state, with Libertas Institute leading the way, to become “a hotbed for police reform.” As in Calvo’s case, the Utah legislature overwhelmingly approved a transparency bill—even better than the one in Maryland—that will help policy makers see a bird’s eye view of the level of force being utilized in our communities. But Utah went further, passing other legislation which included restrictions on when forcible entry warrants can be used.
There is a healthy appetite for reform, and reasonable minds recognize that systemic reforms may be necessary to prevent the type of abuse being witnessed in Ferguson. All around the country, and most recently in Ferguson, catalytic events offer opportunities to press for reform. We in Utah have been doing our part. Others elsewhere should do the same.
12 Responses to “After Ferguson, Then What?”
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Connor, I feel like I’m on your back a lot in these comments, but you’re consistently on the right side of civil liberties/rights issues and I have to thank you for fighting so hard on these issues, especially in Utah.
The points above are well taken, but an important dimension that is part of the problem in Ferguson was left out. That is the blatant racism in that community. That is another problem that needs to be addressed here in Utah as well, not toward blacks so much as toward the Hispanic Community.
To the best of my knowledge, the rules that apply to all citizens are the same for police officers. Deadly force is justified to save your life or the life of someone else whose life is threatened. Therefore, you can’t shoot someone who is running away, or in the case of Mike Brown, surrendering with their hands up. BTW why can’t police shoot a suspect ONE TIME and then make an arrest?
Rmwarnick, No, I think the rules for police officers are different. Why are there police officers then? I don’t have specialized training for physical combat, or how to properly use a gun or other weapons. I don’t have specific training that they have for the ethics of police force. Officers can be corrupt, and make mistakes, but it is different for them and they operate in a different understaning than an average citizen.
In light of some of the recent developments in Ferguson, such as the autopsy and witnesses that seem to corroborate the officer’s story, does anyone here feel they jumped the gun (pun) with accusations of abuse in this case? I felt it important to wait to make judgments, but many seem to have accepted the story as it was posed on day 1. Connor, correct me if I’m wrong, but your final paragraph seems to align with the sympathies of the protesters. Was this article too rash? Or do the abuses you mentioned refer to tear gassing reporters, etc.?
One need not object to Brown’s specific fate to object to the manner by which law enforcement officers have conducted themselves.
What are police officers? They are regular citizens who have been hired by fellow citizens to uphold the law. Why would a regular citizen have less rules to follow when on the job? In the case of combat, the fact that you haven’t undergone any training yourself has no bearing on whether I have a right to defend myself the same way that a cop does. That’s what drives me nuts about California. They are saying that a cop’s life is worth more than more own, or my family’s, because they can carry a weapon with a “large capacity magazine.”
It is the responsibility of the citizen to learn how to act ethically, just like it is an officer’s responsibility to do the same. rmwarncik is right in that when it comes to self defense with a gun, an officer had better be able to prove that his life was in danger.
Anyone in law enforcement would tell you that 1 bullet does not necessarily incapacitate a suspect. They may have concealed weapons and be perfectly capable of using them after being shot. But it seems like in most cases that I see on the news, suspects are usually taken to the hospital after being shot, so it doesn’t seem like a majority of suspects get shot to death. Sometimes they do shoot, and if the suspect is down and there’s sufficient backup, they will make the arrest rather than “execute” someone. I’m sure there’s official protocol on it, but I’m just speaking from observation.
Gotcha. I wasn’t clear on whether or not you were referring to the actual shooting or how it’s all being handled.
Pierce, I am not a police officer, but I might have just as many rules, perhaps more to follow in performing my job. They are however very different rules. I generally do not have the expectation that I would have to confront a person or several people in a violent situation. I don’t have to make a quick decision about if someone is stable, or could suddenly do something violent to me. All I can think is that its different for a police officer.
I don’t believe I have made a value judgement about a law enforcement officer. Nor a comparison between his or her value vs. anyone elses. They can make errors or faulty judgement like anyone else. I hope you understand.
“Deadly force is justified to save your life or the life of someone else whose life is threatened. Therefore, you can’t shoot someone who is running away…”
Does this self defense rule apply when the person threatening you is incapacited?
And Sim Gill said that about his sham of a case against Cowley that he tried to have done in secret and in the end it was fully dismissed in the initial hearing. Absolutely no shadow of a wrongdoing found by the court against Cowley. What makes you so sure you know the score about the officer shooting in Ferguson? I have to say I am disappointed in your blog thus far. For some reason I thought you would be more awake.
The rules for police officers are the same as for citizens. In some ways they might be more restrictive when they also have to follow department policy that is designed to reduce liability, sometimes with liability as a priority over the officers own safety.