The reports came out yesterday that police in South Florida shot another unarmed black man. In this case, Charles Kinsey was attempting to chase down a young autistic man – who had wandered away from his assisted living facility and was blocking traffic – when he was shot by a North Miami police officer.
The incident was caught on cellphone footage, where Mr. Kinsey is lying on the ground, hands in the air, trying to calm the young man and defuse the situation.
Mr. Kinsey is heard on the video to be saying “all he has is a toy truck in his hand.” The officers, hiding behind nearby poles around 30 feet away, have assault rifles trained on them.
“That’s all it is,” he says. “There is no need for guns.”
But no matter, the officers fire three times, one hitting Mr. Kinsey in the leg. He told local TV, “I was thinking as long as I have my hands up … they’re not going to shoot me… Wow, was I wrong.”
But it gets worse, as police then handcuffed him and left him bleeding on the pavement for “about 20 minutes.”
For all of the talk about the use of force, and use of lethal force, we have lost sight of something else – the lack of respect for the sanctity of life shown by police officers.
These are words that permeate the perception in black communities across the country. As the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force reported back in April, “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
The notion of the sanctity of life is heavily embedded into the PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) report that aims to shift the guiding principles for the police use of force protocols. As Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood stated, “I think somewhere along the way we in American policing have lost the ability to realize why we took this job. It was to protect the sanctity of human life.”
As Chuck Wexler writes in the forward to PERF’s Guiding Principles on Use of Force, “Ultimately this report is about the sanctity of all human life – the lives of police officers and the lives of the people they serve and protect. The preservation of life has always been at the heart of American policing. Refocusing on that core ideal has never been more important than it is right now.”
He adds, “Across the country, community members have been distressed by images of police officers using deadly force in questionable circumstances. These incidents are an infinitesimal fraction of the millions of interactions that take place between the police and the public every week. Most police officers never fire their guns (except during training) throughout their entire careers, yet they face enormous challenges and risks to their own safety on a regular basis and they perform their jobs admirably. But police chiefs tell us that even one bad encounter can damage trust with the community that took years to build.”
PERF recommends that, rather than “think[ing] solely about their own safety,” police officers should take “a broader approach designed to protect everyone’s lives.”
One of the key recommendations is Recommendation 7, to “respect the sanctity of life by promptly rendering first aid.” They write, “Officers should render first aid to subjects who have been injured as a result of police actions and should promptly request medical assistance.”
They cite Seattle Police Department policy: “Following a use-of-force, officers shall render or request medical aid, if needed or if requested by anyone, as soon as reasonably possible.”
As Deputy Chief Christy Lopez of the US DOJ Civil Rights Division notes, “We’re asking something very difficult of our officers. It asks a lot to be willing to take another human being’s life, so we’re asking them to do that only when it’s necessary, and then to turn around and try to save that person’s life that they just tried to take. That’s a difficult thing to do in the moment. If we train them to do that beforehand, it makes it easier to do that, and it puts them in a better frame of mind to understand the dual role that we are asking them to play as police officers—to be willing to take someone’s life, and then turn around and try to save that same life.”
One of the key examples comes out of the Cleveland shooting of Tamir Rice. Ms. Lopez notes, “When people watched that Tamir Rice video, and this happens in a lot of videos, unfortunately, to the public, it looks like the officers are idly standing around and waiting for the ambulance to arrive while someone may be bleeding to death.”
She continued, “And in that video in particular, you see Tamir Rice’s sister come running up, to try to be by her brother’s side, and then you see the officer tackle her. That’s not a good image. We need to teach officers how to handle that, to treat family members respectfully, to understand what the family is going through, what the community is going through, even as they handle these scenes. And it’s expecting too much of any human being to handle these situations if they haven’t been trained in advance.”
In San Francisco, Ken Williams, a former homicide detective in Boston and a use of force expert, made a similar note.
Not only was Tamir Rice shot within 20 seconds of the encounter, basically precluding an attempt to resolve the situation without the loss of life, but, Mr. Williams noted, “[a]nother problem with this video, after he shoots him, does anyone see the police officers running to the aid of the individual now shot?”
This is the problem we have in the latest shooting – not only do we have the police apparently overreacting to a situation by firing a weapon, but they compound it by failing to get Mr. Kinsey prompt medical attention.
Don Shor made a very perceptive comment the other day, noting, “It seems that the proven disproportional use of force in non-lethal settings leads to a perception in the black community that they are singled out unfairly. That has been true, undoubtedly, for many years and has led to great frustration. Whether it’s racist or not, or based on conscious or unconscious bias, isn’t really the point: the perception is there and it has some foundation. The lethal cases just become a flash point for that frustration, especially when they are unjustified.”
The lack of medical attention in these cases further feeds into the perception in the black community that their lives simply do not matter. That is a narrative that organizations like PERF are trying to change.
—David M. Greenwald reporting