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Police shootings and the logic of authoritarianism


A 26-year-old black Grand Rapids, Michigan, man got an informally administered death penalty for a minor traffic violation followed by resisting arrest. Patrick Lyoya was a Congolese refugee, and he came to the US fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014. He had two young daughters and five siblings.

Warning: The second video is very graphic.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the cop was “following procedure,” and probably won’t be disciplined, let alone charged with anything.

But the problem is that following procedure means shooting somebody who you were giving a minor traffic citation to, because he “resisted arrest.” How about just letting a harmless unarmed man run away if he panics and runs, as opposed to shooting him in the head when you can’t manage to subdue him completely?

Note that cops in other developed countries DON’T KILL PEOPLE. For a cop to kill somebody in Western Europe or Japan, etc. is extraordinarily rare. There are whole countries with populations in the millions who can literally go an entire year without a single person being killed by the police.

In this country three people are killed by the cops every single day of the year on average and it’s like oh well he was resisting arrest so whaddaya gonna do?

That’s a classic authoritarian mindset.

Needless to say, huge numbers of people will watch this and think the lesson is, “don’t run from the police, and don’t try to grab a cop’s taser.” I mean that’s good advice in the abstract, but should failure to comply with Best Practices for a docile citizenry be a death sentence? That again is pure authoritarian psychology.

A friend writes:

From watching the video, it didn’t appear he was trying to take the tazer. He was trying to prevent it from being shot at him, which is why it discharged twice into the ground rather than his body. The cop kept yelling “stop touching the tazer” but what he meant was “let me shoot you with my tazer.” I don’t think it is hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to comply with that order.

One thing I hope comes from this is re-examining the attitude that “if you run from a cop, you deserve whatever you get.” There is no good reason for that, and most civilized countries don’t operate that way. There may be situations where it is legitimate to shoot a fleeing suspect to prevent an actual threat of death or severe bodily injury, but this was not one of those cases from what I saw. Police are so used to the mentality that their primary goal is achieving compliance with their orders, and whatever they need to do to achieve that is ok. It’s not ok.

Of course another factor here is that with 300 million guns floating around police work is going to be more dangerous than it is in the civilized world, although still not nearly as dangerous as the defenders of thin blue line would have people believe it is.

One thing I’d like to see that I think would be both pragmatically useful and actually fair would be to see less treatment of unjustified police violence in purely racial terms, as important as that aspect of the issue obviously is. Hundreds of white people are killed every year in America by the police with dubious or no justification. Even without the racial injustice component police violence in America would still be a massive problem, and a harbinger of authoritarianism.

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