Last week saw violent protests with one man shot and critically wounded following Tuesday’s shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte, NC police. The violence includes arson and looting, along with injuries to seven police officers and two others. The state’s governor has declared a state of emergency and brought in the National Guard and state police.
The aftermath of the shooting of Scott is following a pattern that we’ve seen all too many times over the last several years. According to the police, Scott was seen in a location where they were searching for a man with outstanding warrants and saw Scott holding a handgun in his car. Scott existed and re-entered his vehicle. He was ordered by officers to drop the gun, at which point he tried to come out of his vehicle again He was then shot by one of the officers. Chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Kerr Putney, told reporters that a weapon was seized while no book was found. That latter is a reference to Scott’s sister who said that her brother was reading a book in his car when the police approached him.
As I said, we’ve been over this ground many times. In the miasma of claim and counter-claim to come, the facts are likely to be forgotten—sometimes by choice. But for those of us looking in from outside, what matters is finding a solution, rather than heightening the controversy.
The problem is that both sides—the police and minorities who are private citizens—have good cause for grievance. Officer-involved shootings more often involve a white person being shot, but only barely so. This is far out of proportion to the racial demographics of our nation. Most of those shootings were of people carrying a weapon by a ratio of some five to one. And too many of those shot suffered from mental illness.
Law enforcement has a reasonable expectation of being able to defend themselves when attacked. But unlike ordinary people, cops have taken on an assignment that introduce them to unique dangers. The popular impression is that they have a duty to protect us, though many in the gun community are aware of rulings in the courts that this sense among the public is wrong. Warren v. District of Columbia in 1981 is one such case, and several more recent rulings on the level of the Supreme Court have confirmed the judgement that the police have no constitutional duty to provide protection.
Herein lies a potential answer, though. The Constitution may not require law enforcement to protect us, but contracts can. What I mean here is that we can change the relationship of the police to our communities by making a duty to protect a condition of being hired.
Instead, over the course of this century, we’ve seen increasing militarization of the police, building on the War on Drugs from the 70s and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But since cops are agents of our government, they have a fundamental duty, perhaps not codified, but essential to the structure of a free society to represent the power that the people loan to government.
Would telling the police to slow down before they use lethal force put them in danger? Perhaps. That’s a part of the job—again, in a free society. When the perception exists that government power is being used illegitimately against the people, the justification for that power fades. The bargain that we make with each other is that we allow the police to use force for the good of all and only if that action doesn’t violate the rights of any. That deal is in question now, and it’s time for government to make the first move of dialing back the use of force. If we don’t, the violence we’re seeing in cities like Charlotte may only be the beginning.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.