Every day I check Philly.com to get a taste of the local news. Like most news sites these days, this one includes the tiresome feature of reader comments.
Today there are two stories about police violence against citizens. The first involves an off-duty cop who shot and killed a fleeing robber. Read the comments under this story, and you’ll be left with little wonder as to how our government gets away with so much—pardon the expression—murder. Everyone is assuming that the cop is right. Now, please understand me carefully. I’m not saying that the cop is definitely wrong. There is not enough information in the story to form much of an opinion about that. But it does say that the robber was fleeing. Who shot first? Did the cop shoot at someone who was running away? Is that right? No one on Philly.com is being quite that thoughtful about it, however. They’re just happy that they won’t have to pay for this robber to go through the court system and are willing to give the police a pass because of it.
As much as the previous story is still murky, another story is far more definitively outrageous. In 2008, a horde of cops beat several men as they were lying on the ground—in fact at least two of them were being held down while they were being beaten by others. They were suspected of murder, and if my memory is serving me they were found to be innocent. The cops bludgeoned them mercilessly to the point that the police commissioner removed them from their jobs. Now they’ve been reinstated by an arbitration panel, and the FOP is having a party for them tonight. Again, read the comments. When the police commissioner is convinced that there was wrong conduct, but the peanut gallery is still cheering, you know the prospects for liberty are very small indeed. It appears that the government has carte blanche authority, if you go by the public opinion, and in the end that’s all that matters.
Let’s assume everything the cops said about these supposedly bad guys is true: that they were murderers, that they had seen them shooting only a few moments earlier, etc. Does that give them the right to mete out justice right there on the street corner? That’s what trials and judges and juries are for. Too many people have a hero complex that seems to impair their judgement in crisis situations. Of course, if these cops were real heroes, they wouldn’t be so quick to inflict violence on others. Part of bravery involves treating others with the dignity that is rightfully theirs.