After I wrote yesterday’s blog, I was surprised to see that one of my subjects was the focus of CNN’s late news reporting programs. The murder of Kajieme Powell came under scrutiny by Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo (CNN) and Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC). They questioned the need for deadly force while interviewing the chief of the officer’s police force. He explained that his officers are trained to kill if the alleged assailant approaches within 21 feet. In other words, police can kill someone within twenty-one feet. What I see is two officers who demand that the “assailant” drop his weapon, No questions as to why the person is acting in an odd manner, no question to the crowd whether they are familiar with the assailant, no questions as to his name, where does he live, how his day was going.
I am not a peace officer but on two occasions, I was confronted with a person who was acting erratic in possession of a weapon, once with a knife and in the other instance with a club. On the first occasion, I was told a man with a knife was on top of a mailbox, ranting. The police were called. Someone told me what was going on and I went to see for myself. I intervened by asking the man what his name was, whether he lived in the area, did he take medication, etc, in a very calm voice. I asked him to descend from his perch and talk to me. He came down, I asked for the weapon, which he gave to me. I asked where he lived, then escorted him to his home, gave him his meds and asked him to lie down, which he did. I kept the weapon and when I returned to the location, there were six police cars, and several officers waiting. The police asked where the problem was, and several people pointed me out and said that I had taken care of the “problem”. I’m sure I saved a life that day.
The other incident involved a young man with a club. Again, I calmly approached him after the crowd said he lived in a specific house and was angry that his family had put him out and he said he was going to break in the house. In a calm reassuring tone, I asked him what happened. I asked for the weapon and it took a while, but he gave it to me. I spoke with him for fifteen minutes and calmed down. I asked him if he had a friend I might call and he said he did, I called and the friend came a got him. If the crowd had called the police, I’m sure that would have harmed him and all he needed was a calming voice of reason, not death.
These incidents tell me that when a person, who is not an out and out criminal is upset, with a weapon, the most important thing is a calming voice and an unobtrusive demeanor. Police officers are trained to be aggressive, to use their weapon then, asked questions. Often, it is too late, a person is dead.
The police must be retrained to first ,approach the non-criminal with respect. Every encounter is NOT a criminal one. Second the police must not escalate the tension in a confrontational manner. They must be trained in “people communication skills” and not assume that every move by a person is not a physical threat worthy of death. Perhaps an idea; in these situations, don’t send uniformed cops, send plainclothes, psychologically trained people, as a first option. Every police station should have a qualified trained officer assigned to it. They have hostage negotiators, why not have people with the ability to communicate with people, not confront them…. Maybe we save a few lives….. What do you think?
Enough said, I’m out!!