A lot has been said about the shooting of Michael Brown on the 9th of August this year. When it comes to the implications for racial equality, there’s little I can add, but while that might be the most important implication, it definitely isn’t the only one. After all, the colour of Michael Brown’s skin wasn’t the only reason why he got killed, and if we truly want to avoid these murders in the future, we’ll have to be aware of the other reasons as well.
So… let’s look at this from the point of view of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown. What might have been the reasons for why he did what he did and what went through his mind? Of course, the details of the shooting are blurry and sometimes rather contradictory, but what seems clear is that there was some sort of scuffle through the window of the police car, after which the victim began running away, somehow causing the police officer to shoot him while he was already surrendering.
That is, of course, a terrible thing, and there is no excusing it, but there are definitely some reasons for it. What seems clear is that Wilson was, at least somewhere during the confrontation, awfully scared. So scared, in fact, that he completely lost his mind and shot a teenager who was clearly no longer a threat to him. But why?
The answer is complex, but part of it is that being a police officer in the US is scary at all times. Not only do a whole lot of people hate the police, seeing them not as human beings but as evil dictators in uniforms, but even worse, those people all have access to guns. As a police officer in the US, you do not have an advantage. You do not have more power than the criminals. All you have is a uniform that makes you stand out in a crowd while you’re constantly surrounded by people who hate you and who have the power to end your life. Worse still, you spend your life looking for those criminals rather than avoiding them, as if your job is to give them that opportunity to shoot you.
It’s no wonder, then, that each year well over a hundred police officers are killed on duty, or that while the killing of a police officer in the UK, or anywhere in Europe for that matter, makes headline news, in the US, it’s not even possible to get an accurate figure because not every death is reported. Perhaps it is even no wonder, then, that small towns like Keene, New Hampshire purchase armoured, military vehicles to “counter the threat of terrorism”, as John Oliver rather brilliantly points out. After all, how else are they going to protect themselves, in a country in which bearing a gun is considered normal?
Darren Wilson, as an individual, made a brutal decision that went at the loss of the life of a teenager. But whether the victims are armed or not is hardly relevant, in any of these cases. As a police officer, you have to deal with possibly-armed suspects all day, so it becomes only logical to assume that everyone you meet does in fact have a gun. It’s the best way to protect your own life. That in no way means that Wilson was right to shoot Brown while he was basically on his knees, but it shows that there are other reasons to consider. Reasons that are much more easily tackled, that are not rooted in subconscious prejudice, but just in written laws that can be changed if only people wanted it to change.
If we truly want the US police force to improve, getting rid of that second amendment would be a good start.
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