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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Some Police Shootings Really are Justified

In my estimation, for whatever it might be worth, it's pretty clear that Darren Wilson should stand trial for the murder of Michael Brown. It's also clear that the NYPD officer who choked out Eric Garner should stand trial for his murder. However, it's equally clear that the officer who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee last April acted justifiably and that no charges should be brought. How can I say such a thing? I say it because I read the report of the expert the Milwaukee District Attorney hired to consult on the case. The experts credentials are unquestionable, as are the stories of the witnesses to the event. Only six of the dozens of witnesses say that Hamilton was shot while on the ground, and three of those were working in surrounding office buildings. That means they would have looked out the window after they heard the shots, by which time Hamilton would indeed have been on the ground. The other three rolled up in a car while the incident was going down. The autopsy results confirm that none of the shots hit Hamilton while he was on the ground. Despite all of this, Jesse Jackson is on his way to Milwaukee today to demand justice for Hamilton.

Dontre Hamilton was schizophrenic, and had been kicked out of his parent's home because of his behaviors - but suddenly the family doesn't talk about that reality. Suddenly he was a model citizen who never caused anyone any problems. Hamilton managed to get the officer's baton from him and hit the officer in the neck, causing him both injury and to fear for his life. There were witnesses who confirmed this attack. The officer did fire fourteen shots, seven of which hit Hamilton in the arm and one which hit him in the low abdomen causing no significant injury. The truth is that police are trained to shoot until the threat is stopped. Eight of the shots had no effect, but more importantly the shooting was over in three to four seconds. I have been attacked on the street, and I can tell you there isn't time to take an action, wait to see if it works, and then take another. There is no "shooting to wound," and people who think there is such a thing have watched way too many spaghetti westerns. I have also worked with seriously mentally ill people. I can tell you that when a person with schizophrenia becomes violent there is no negotiating with them. The fight is on, and it won't be over until either you or they are down. That's reality, and it sometimes isn't pleasant - but that doesn't make it less than the truth.

Here's my biggest problem: the black community will continue to lack credibility until it is willing to admit that there are occasions when a black person is legitimately accosted by police, that there are black people who do actually commit crimes and deserve prosecution, and - sadly - there are black people who attack police officers and that those officers respond with justifiable force. Yet every time I watch the news and a black person is arrested, all I ever see are people claiming the invisible man did the crime and not the person detained. The statistics alone tell us this cannot be true, yet time after time the same nonsense occurs - and then leaders in the community are mystified as to why, when there are cases of police brutality, the public has a hard time believing the witnesses! It's a modern day twist on the boy who cried wolf story. You can't cry, "the police did wrong," over and over - even when the evidence is clear that is not the case, as with Dontre Hamilton - and expect to maintain any credibility. Calling in Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton doesn't change that, because in all honestly they are attention seeking media whores who care not one whit about what went down on the street as long as they can get some face time in front of the cameras. Building credibility requires telling the truth. That can be painful, but it can go a long way toward remedying many cultural and societal ills.

Sadly, Dontre Hamilton is a victim - but not of police misconduct. Rather he is a victim of a society that decided during the late 1980s and early 1990s to de-institutionalize the mentally ill. The result is that the patients who were in State hospitals were transferred to group homes and people who needed group home services were sent to the streets. That huge mistake is what needs to be addressed if we want to make sure there isn't another Dontre Hamilton, but fixing that situation will cost money. Our society values money more than lives, so it quite simply isn't going to happen. That's the real tragedy here.

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