Remember a couple years back, when that plane crashed in that city and killed all those people? And all the news networks talked about it for months? And every guest interviewed on the news said, “I don’t know anything about flying, but let me tell you what that pilot should have done”?
Or maybe you remember that incident not long ago, where doctors tried and failed to save a patient with a rare and deadly disease. After the patient died, “experts” with no medical training, knowledge or experience talked nonstop about what the doctors did wrong. “Those doctors must have no idea what they’re doing. All they had to do was make the patient not die. How hard is that?”
What? You don’t remember those incidents? That’s odd. Maybe you’ll remember this one.
There was this cop once, in some small town somewhere. He stopped a guy for something minor and let him go, then realized the guy was a suspect in a bigger crime and stopped him again. The guy attacked the cop. They fought, and eventually the cop shot and killed the guy.
And for months, people with literally zero training, knowledge or experience with lethal force encounters blathered on about what that cop should have done. They spoke on national media outlets. They wrote articles for newspapers and blogs. They spoke at public events. And they constantly said ridiculous, stupid things like “The officer should have shot Brown in the leg.”
Or “All the officer had to do was use a Taser, baton or pepper spray.”
Or “There’s never a reason to shoot an unarmed person.”
Or “That officer fired six times and there’s no way that can ever be justified.”
Or “That poor young man was executed for stealing cigars.”
Or “The officer must have been lying. An unarmed person would never attack an armed cop.”
Or “The cop should have been put on trial for murder so everyone could see whether he was guilty or not.”
Sound familiar? Could be you’ve heard a little something about this case. I have, and I’m sick of the constant storm of ignorant bullshit being spewed about it.
I don’t mean that I’ve simply heard reasonable criticism of police practices, or honest questions about use of force. The public has every right to question how we police them. But I’ve heard comments so moronic I wonder if the person making them remembers how to breathe without instructions. Since Officer Darren Wilson was no-billed by a Grand Jury, the nonsense has only gotten worse. I don’t want people to stop asking questions, and I’m happy to give answers. But for god’s sake, at least try to find out what the hell you’re talking about before you broadcast your opinion to the entire world.
What’s most frustrating is that dumb comments often come from otherwise intelligent, reasonable people who don’t second-guess pilots, doctors or professionals in other fields. These commenters generally stay in their lane and don’t hold forth about things they know nothing about. But when it comes to law enforcement, they feel completely justified prattling for hours on a subject about which they’re completely blind.
Why the difference? As far as I can tell, it’s because the public respects pilots, doctors and almost all other professionals. But cops? We’re different. Any idiot can be a cop. No intelligence required.
Maybe that belief is due to a lifetime-plus of cultural conditioning. Since before I was born, cops have been portrayed in popular culture as fools. Yes, we’ve also had positive cops on TV and in the movies; even so, not many people know Crockett and Tubbs or Barney Miller, while almost everyone knows Officer Barbrady and Barney Fife. The apparent result of this cultural conditioning is a widespread belief that police work is simple. Much of the public doesn’t know our job is complex, dynamic, challenging and sometimes dangerous; rather, they think it’s dull, plain, and frankly beneath anyone with even average intelligence.
Who knows, maybe police work really is that simple and easy. My experience may be a total fluke. Police work has put me in some of the most mentally and physically demanding situations of my life. I’ve had to fight for survival. I’ve had to talk people out of suicide. I’ve had to anticipate the next moves of desperate fleeing criminals. I’ve had to decipher the terrified, stuttering words of crime victims in a race against the clock to get descriptions out before suspects could get too far from the scene. I’ve had to ignore the horrible suffering of innocent people in order to focus on my task of ensuring the guilty didn’t escape justice. I’ve exercised every ounce of discipline I had and held my fire when a drunk pointed a pistol at me, because I wasn’t sure who was behind him.
None of that was easy. Many of those situations were incredibly complicated. I had to make multiple snap judgments based on training, hard-earned experience, and highly nuanced understanding of human nature and my own biases and weaknesses. I’ve worked with a lot of smart men and women who faced situations just as difficult, and sometimes far more difficult, than those I faced.
I want the public to understand the difficulties, challenges and realities of police work. So I’m going to briefly address some of the ridiculous, moronic misunderstandings that I’ve seen and read. None of what I’m about to write even hints that cops are always right, or that private citizens should never question them; we cops are beholden to the public we serve, and we should answer honest questions from good people (I myself have a LOT of questions and concerns about the Eric Garner case in NYC). I hope my answers help those who truly want to understand why Officer Wilson opened fire that day. But I also hope it encourages rabble-rousing, clueless idiots frantically running their mouths about how police “should” handle lethal force encounters to shut up and swim back to the shallow end of the pool.
“The officer could have just shot Michael Brown in the leg or arm.”
No, he probably couldn’t have. A leg or arm is a small, easy to miss target. Darren Wilson was firing center mass at a large target, and still completely missed with several shots. Even if he had hit Brown’s arm or leg, that wouldn’t have guaranteed Brown would stop, or live. Limb shots rarely immediately disable people. Plus, they can damage an artery and cause death within minutes.
Watch this video of a man bleeding out from a femoral artery shot:
I’ve asked people before, “Name one professional firearms instructor who teaches limb shots.”
So far, nobody has been able to. People who know firearms, the dynamics of lethal force encounters, and the capabilities and limitations of human beings know how difficult it is to shoot a limb under realistic conditions; in a life-or-death encounter, when both you and your opponent are moving, scared and suffering from the physiological effects of stress, you’re not going to be able to hit a limb from any distance. That’s why police are trained to shoot center mass of the largest available target (and under stress we still often miss).
Maybe leg shooting could be done in a very specific situation, like if you and backup officers are facing a cornered suspect armed with a knife. But in a situation where you’re being charged by a large, aggressive suspect who’s already assaulted you? Sure, try a leg shot. I’ll wait until after your funeral to criticize you for it.
And besides, Wilson did (inadvertently) shoot Brown several times in a limb. We all know how that worked. Multiple rounds to his arm didn’t stop him.
“Wilson didn’t have to shoot Brown six times.”
Apparently he did. A grazing wound to the hand had no effect and neither did multiple arm wounds. In movies people get shot and promptly die in dramatic fashion (unless it’s a good guy, then he’ll get a minor shoulder wound and survive). In real life, people can get shot repeatedly and stay in the fight.
Ask Sgt. Timothy Gramins about this gangster who tried to kill a cop. He took seventeen .45 rounds before finally going down.
In the 1986 Miami FBI shootout, a robber took a non-survivable wound to the chest within the first few seconds of a gunfight. He stayed on his feet, killed two FBI agents and wounded five others, and eventually died several minutes later after being shot twelve times. The Matix-Platt fight has been rightly used by many police agencies as a cautionary tale on a number of levels.
In 1995 a man took twenty .22 rounds from a rifle less than five feet away and survived.
In 1993, police officer Danny Vaughn survived being shot four times in the head with a 9mm pistol.
In this video, which is painful to watch, a man with a rifle kills a deputy on a traffic stop. After the deputy is shot at least once, he manages to shoot the suspect in the abdomen. At around 2:42 you see the suspect’s reaction to being shot: he backs up, touches his stomach, then advances and starts shooting again.
In this video from Oregon, a man tries to kill an officer during a traffic stop (for no reason I can think of). The suspect suffers a fatal wound at :33, yet he continues to maneuver, shoot, run and then drive away. He died half a mile down the road.
Most Americans are so shielded from violence, they actually believe the entertainment industry’s version of what bullets do. We see this even among cops. One of our academy instructors used a cadet in an action/reaction drill a few years back. When the instructor fired a blank at the cadet, the cadet threw himself backward into a wall and dropped to the floor.
When the instructor asked, “Why did you do that?”, the cadet had no answer. But I think I know why he did it: he thought he was supposed to. When you get shot, you get knocked back and fall, right? That’s what people do in the movies. But in real life they often don’t. In fact, sometimes people get shot and don’t even know it. One thing we train to do in law enforcement and the military is check ourselves and each other after a shooting or firefight, because when adrenaline is flowing and bullets are flying you might not feel a bullet wound.
Bottom line, bullets aren’t magic spells that put everyone down with one shot. Six rounds for a large, aggressive suspect isn’t a lot.
“Wilson should have just used a Taser, baton or pepper spray instead of shooting.”
Intermediate weapons don’t always work; just like bullets, they’re not magic spells that instantly drop all criminals. Pepper spray often misses vital areas (or blows back onto the officer), baton strikes fail to have the intended effect, and Taser darts get hung up on thick clothing. Every intermediate weapon can be affected by a multitude of factors such as weather, movement, suspect’s clothing, amount of alcohol or drugs in the suspect’s system, and so on.
I’ve pepper sprayed dozens of suspects; a few melted on the spot, most fought briefly and then gave up, and a few weren’t affected until long after the fight was over. I’ve fought through pepper spray myself, after my field training officer sprayed me in the eyes while I had one cuff on a suspect. Pepper spray in the eyes feels like being stabbed in the brain with an ice pick, but a determined person can keep attacking even after being sprayed.
Here’s a video of an officer being attacked by an unarmed suspect. The officer pepper sprays the suspect, to no effect. The suspect disarmed the officer and beat him with his own weapon. By the way, the officer also shot the suspect in the stomach, to no effect.
Here’s a rather amusing video of a drunk at Disneyland continuing to attack a security guard after being repeatedly pepper sprayed.
And batons? I’ve hit two suspects with batons; both wound up in the hospital, and one had a broken foot. Despite that, both kept advancing and swinging on me even as I was hitting them. The guy with the broken foot (who I had also pepper sprayed) wound up running several blocks on broken bones. The other suspect was pepper sprayed, then hit another officer and almost knocked him out, then hit and almost knocked me out after I hit him numerous times with an Asp baton.
Here are two cops getting beaten by a crowd, despite hitting some of them with batons.
Tasers have their own issues. The darts don’t always penetrate clothing. The darts sometimes don’t get enough spread for a good shock. The Taser itself can malfunction and not deliver a charge. When Tasers work, they work great. When they fail, they fail miserably.
Here are two cops using a Taser on a combative suspect. No effect.
Check out this guy’s reaction to being Tased. “I’ll get you, bitch.”
In this incident, an officer Tased a very large suspect (who was smaller than Michael Brown). The suspect punched and knocked him down, then bit his eyebrow off before the officer shot him.
I think you get the idea. Intermediate weapons aren’t what you grab if you think your life is in danger. Because I live in the real world, I know not to expect any intermediate weapon to always work.
“It’s always wrong to shoot an unarmed person.”
No it isn’t.
This is something I’ve written about before. Because most people have never been in anything worse than a schoolyard scuffle, their concept of a “fight” is two five-year olds slapping each other under the monkey bars. That’s not what a real fight is. In a real fight, you can be beaten unconscious quick. All it takes is one good hit, and you’re completely helpless. That doesn’t mean cops need to shoot all unarmed suspects, but it does mean an unarmed person can present a lethal threat.
In 2012 an unarmed seventeen year old kid, who appears to be pretty small, beat an El Paso police officer to death. The officer was 6’, 275 pounds, twenty-nine years old and a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also in 2012, an unarmed man in Shiner, Texas beat another man to death for raping his daughter.
Earlier this year an unarmed twenty-one year old “felt like killing someone” and beat a random man to death at the San Antonio Amtrak station.
Watch this video, where an officer is beaten badly by an escaped convict. Tell me the officer would have been wrong to use deadly force.
Or how about this. An officer is beaten unconscious during a traffic stop.
In 2011 more people were killed nationwide by “fists, hands, feet” (728) than were killed by rifles of all types, including “assault rifles” (323).
Unarmed people can be extremely dangerous. Anyone who denies that is performing the intellectual equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “Lalalalala I’m not listening to you!”
All the evidence is there. People just have to look at it.
“Brown was executed for stealing cigars.”
No he wasn’t. He was shot because of the amount of resistance he presented to the officer. Yes, Brown was killed after committing a relatively minor offense (by the way, that offense was robbery, not theft; theft + force = robbery). Many police encounters begin with minor offenses but spiral into violence. That violence isn’t in response to the original offense, it’s in response to the suspect’s actions toward the officer.
I’ve arrested a couple of people for murder and used no force at all, because they used no force on me. I’ve arrested people for minor traffic warrants but had to spray, chase or fight them because of their evasion or resistance. The suspect’s actions drive our response.
If I respond to a minor loud noise complaint at an apartment and the homeowner shoots at me as soon as I drive up, I’ll shoot back. If I kill him, it’s not for playing his music too loud. It’s for his resistance toward my lawful actions as an officer.
Saying “Brown was killed for stealing cigars” in no way describes what happened or why Officer Wilson fired his weapon. It’s a deliberate attempt to twist facts and inflame emotions.
“But witnesses said Brown had his hands up when he was shot!”
Yes, some witnesses said that. However, witness statements aren’t automatically true. Witnesses sometimes lie to protect their friends (Dorian Johnson), or make mistakes, or deliberately twist facts to push an agenda. The Grand Jury determined the witnesses testifying to the “hands up” scenario weren’t credible because they admitted they didn’t actually see the shooting, or were too far away to tell what happened, or were repeating what they heard other people say, or their testimony contradicted physical evidence.
Other witnesses said Brown didn’t have his hands up. Those witnesses were deemed credible, because their testimony matched the physical evidence. Credibility is the key to witness testimony.
Last Sunday, venerable political commentator Cokie Roberts, speaking on Meet the Press, emphatically stated “Sixteen of the twenty-nine witnesses said Brown had his hands up!”, as if witness testimony is a popularity contest. It isn’t. If there are literally five hundred witnesses insisting a certain thing happened and none of them are credible, but one witness gives a different account and he is credible, we should believe the one good witness over the five hundred bad ones. If we determined guilt or innocence by the number of people testifying in the suspect’s favor, we’d create a new industry; everyone facing criminal charges would simply hire enough witnesses to keep him out of jail. Fortunately, sheer numbers of witnesses aren’t relevant. The credibility of each individual witness is.
And there’s another factor to this whole “hands up” narrative, a factor I haven’t heard anyone mention yet: Even if Brown put his hands up at some point, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t attack officer Wilson.
Here’s a little fact about human anatomy: shoulder and elbow joints don’t lock in position when you raise your arms. This might be amazing news to some people, but someone can raise their arms as if surrendering and then drop them to attack an officer. Don’t believe me? Try it. Raise your hands. Now bring them back down. Crazy how that works, huh?
I’ve had a suspect comply with my orders to lay on his stomach and put his hands behind his back, then flip over and swing at me. In the first academy I went to an instructor told us, “One of the scariest experiences you’ll ever have is when a suspect smiles, turns around, puts his hands behind his back and says, ‘Go ahead and handcuff me, cop.’” Suspects can feign compliance to let the officer get close enough to hit, or they can simply change their minds and decide to fight or run.
Watch this video from England. A traffic violator complies with all police orders, even to the point of sitting in the back of the patrol car, but then tries to flee and fight. Even while the suspect continues to resist, he keeps yelling “Alright! Alright!” as if he’s complying.
People on both sides of this debate keep talking as if the only question is whether or not Brown had his hands up. Nobody is pointing out the obvious fact that even if he had his hands up briefly, that doesn’t mean he didn’t attack Wilson.
“Wilson must have been lying, an unarmed person would never attack an armed cop.”
For real, player? That happens every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Several videos I linked above show unarmed people attacking armed cops. Here’s another one, where a small kid who’s a big dumbass tries to fight two armed cops.
I’ve been assaulted by several unarmed people even though I was obviously a cop and obviously armed. One might say I was attacked because I was obviously a cop and obviously armed. I agree that, generally speaking, it’s irrational for an unarmed person to attack an armed police officer, but we shouldn’t expect rationality from the irrational.
Tell me it’s rational to commit robbery and risk going to prison for $50 worth of drug paraphernalia. It’s not, but that’s exactly what Michael Brown did. Tell me it’s rational to assault a cop in his patrol car right after you’ve committed a robbery. It’s not, but that’s exactly what Michael Brown did. Every time a prisoner who had done something remarkably stupid, like the guy who threw a cup of gasoline into his two-year old daughter’s eyes during a family disturbance and then ran away instead of helping her, said, “I didn’t do that! Why would I do that?”, my answer was always the same. “Don’t ask me to explain why you did something stupid. I don’t know why you did it. It doesn’t make sense. But you did it, not me. You explain it.”
Michael Brown made stupid choices the day he was shot. He committed several irrational acts. Those acts weren’t unbelievable, they were just irrational. And people do irrational stuff all the time.
“The cop should have been put on trial for murder so everyone could see whether he was guilty or not.”
A Grand Jury determines whether or not enough evidence exists to charge a suspect with a crime. If so, the Grand Jury indicts the suspect. If not, they don’t. They don’t say, “There’s no evidence, but what the hell, let’s just charge the guy and see what happens.”
In America we don’t put people on trial for murder to find out if they should have been put on trial for murder.
One small favor. Please.
So please, people. If you know nothing about police work or lethal violence, don’t talk as if you’re an expert. Don’t ignore numerous documented cases of unarmed people committing murders, people needing to be shot repeatedly before they’re stopped, and intermediate weapons failing. Don’t act like witnesses must be believed simply because they claim to have seen something. Don’t pretend all people always behave rationally. Don’t act like police work is so simple that nobody needs training or experience to understand it.
On August 9th, a kid with more muscles than sense robbed a store and attacked a cop. That cop thought his life was in danger and chose to fire his weapon. The kid died. It had nothing to do with racial profiling. It wasn’t emblematic of “police oppression of minorities”. It wasn’t a rogue, out-of-control cop hell-bent on murdering someone. It was a cop who knew that unarmed people can kill, and that intermediate weapons often fail, and that there was no realistic way he could shoot the kid in the leg. So he fired center mass, until the threat ceased. Those are the facts of this case.
So if you’re totally ignorant of police work and violence but just can’t keep your mouth shut about your fantasy view of it, fine. This is America, where stupidity is legal. I can ask you to shut up, but nobody can make you. My only request, and it’s pretty reasonable, is that you find a little echo chamber of people who think just like you, and spout all your nonsense to them. They’ll love it. You guys will have a ball together. Marriages will probably result. But best of all, I and all the other people who know actual facts and live in the real world with real violence won’t have to hear your BS anymore.
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Chris Hernandez Mad Duo Chris (seen here on patrol in Afghanistan) may just be the crustiest member of the eeeee-LIGHT writin’ team here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer of two decades who spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. He is the author of White Flags & Dropped Rifles – the Real Truth About Working With the French Army and The Military Within the Military as well as the modern military fiction novels Line in the Valley and Proof of Our Resolve. When he isn’t groaning about a change in the weather and snacking on Osteo Bi-Flex he writes on his own blog, Iron Mike Magazine, Kit Up! and Under the Radar. You can find his author page here on Tactical 16.