Wednesday, March 25, 2015

One Question Left Unanswered

Amidst all of the criticism of police using deadly force against armed and unarmed suspects, I hope that the incident in Fond du Lac last night that left a Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper dead puts into context the dangers that law enforcement face every time they are called to an armed robbery, a domestic violence incident and even a routine traffic stop.  The possibility of an armed confrontation is ever present, and to expect officers, deputies and troopers to put that risk out of their minds is unfair and dangerous to all of us.

But one question does remain from the incident involving Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney and Dontre Hamilton.  This week, the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission upheld Chief Ed Flynn's firing of Manney for conducting an improper pat down of Hamilton after finding him sleeping a public park.  Manney was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting however, because Hamilton attempted to grab his baton during the ensuing struggle and the officer feared for his safety.

So that begs the question: What is the proper response from a citizen when a law enforcement officer acts in an improper fashion?  Unlike the officers in the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri and the Tony Robinson shooting in Madison, Manney was found to be acting without reasonable belief that a crime had been or was being committed. Brown was a suspect in a convenience store robbery.  Robinson had been jumping in front of cars and may have been involved in a fight in an apartment as the officer arrived on scene.  Dontre Hamilton was just lying on the sidewalk in a park--and the Police and Fire Commission decided that having bulges in his pockets did not warrant being frisked.

So what do the rest of us do if we are put in the same situation?  I don't spend much time sleeping on sidewalks, but based on the number of times I'm told I look "just like" someone somebody went to high school with or they used to work with I might look "just like" someone who does. Or what happens if someday I look "just like" the guy who just held up the gas station a few blocks away or the guy that was just involved in a fight outside a nearby bar and an officer wants to do a warrantless search of my person?  As those other incidents have shown, trying to grab the officer's gun or baton or punching him in the face are certainly NOT the answers.  But what is the solution that not only protects my civil rights--but also keeps an officer from feeling threatened?  Maybe that is a question Police Chiefs and Sheriffs can answer during press conferences--so that we can reduce the number of dangerous situations that require deadly force.

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