Police Officer Racism Can Excuse Killing:
We Need Stronger LawsPolice Officer Racism Can Excuse Killing: We Need Stronger Laws

Police officers sometimes kill people when they should not. Racism can strengthen their defense against a criminal prosecution, because fear is a defense and racism can heighten the officer’s fear.

Many of us respond to fear by identifying what’s fearsome and going right into it, not away from it. We confront it to control it and control our reaction to it. That’s what has expanded humanity’s ability to cope with the world, to live where it’s very hot or cold, where water and food are scarce, in outer space, to try new careers, or to go where people are different. The same is true of race: someone who fears people of another race may want to confront them as a way of gaining self-confidence in their ability to cope with what they fear, a person of another race. This may take more than a few days to accomplish, so much more that the person may spend their life coping. That may be why someone becomes a police officer: they want to control their fear of people of another race by proving their ability to win a confrontation against them. (One person whose father was bothered by the Mafia became an FBI agent specializing in the Mafia. Maybe some people become police officers for similar kinds of reasons.) Their fear may be racist, especially after education; but the racism is not exposed as such, so the officer, who is otherwise qualified when an opening is available, gets the job and keeps it.

Cops are hired to protect the public. Sometimes, that requires shooting to kill, such as to stop someone from killing other people. Sometimes, that means a white police officer kills a black person who turns out, after the death, not to have been a threat. Sometimes, that leads to a criminal prosecution of the officer for murder.

Often, the cop will present a defense in court at least partly grounded in fear, the officer’s fear of what the now-deceased individual was about to do. That can be a sufficient defense, enough for acquittal. The officer is assigned to protect the public and, in some circumstances, is authorized to kill with intent that the person the officer is shooting should become dead as a result.

The officer could have other defenses that would distinguish the case at bar from other killings brought to court. One is likely that it is presumed that someone fulfilled the duties of employment unless evinced otherwise. If it is unlawful not to fulfill, then it would often be libel or slander to say the officer failed to fulfill. If a truck driver hired to do local runs in Oklahoma City kills someone while walking in New Jersey, that’s presumably not part of the job. When done by a police officer on duty, a killing is presumably a lawful part of that fulfillment until evinced otherwise. The subject of the killing and the circumstances are open to question, but the presumptions, at least in the beginning, favor the police officer.

Nonetheless, not every possible killing by a peace officer is allowed by law and some may be prosecuted. The officer, as a defendant, has a chance to present a defense in exoneration. Their fear of what the person whom they killed would likely have done that would have threatened someone’s life, either the cop’s or someone else’s, is generally evidence against guilt.

The problem is that if the officer is white and racist and the person who is now dead was of African descent then the officer’s fear is likely to have been greater than if there was no racism. Provided the officer does not admit to any racism, the fear can provide a factual basis for acquitting of the charge.

A similar problem may occur in general public self-defense cases in which the killing of someone who is unknown or hardly known by the defender is allowed in self-defense.

This may require a reform of the law, so that being racist cannot lower the responsibility and accountability. While this is just one of many problems fostered by present-day racism, society has been much harmed by past encouragement of it and we have to keep up the trend of destroying it.