The first time I became aware of armed American police officers was when I returned to the United States having lived in Ireland for nearly 6 years. As I walked through the arrivals building where there were several police officers making their presence known I was both shocked and frightened by the large guns that they carried on their hips ever ready.
In Ireland the Garda Síochá, or police force were not armed, now, I heard more than 75% of the force still remains an unarmed community force. They made their presence know and were generally approachable and friendly. If I needed help I would not have thought twice about calling the Garda. The Irish government had the good sense at the Civil War and the formation of the Republic to oblige all citizens to surrender their arms by a set date under pain off summary execution. One of its most noteworthy citizens, a member of the Irish government, was executed early in its effort to rid the country of guns. A revolver was found in the Childers’ house and Ian Childers was taken out into the driveway and shot in front of his family. There was no argument about the brutality of his execution, but it demonstrated the leaders’ commitment to rid the young nation that had known centuries of suffering and strife that the decision about guns was non-negotiable and applicable to all.
Having lived in a virtually gun-free country where the police did not need to be armed except in exceptional cases neither Garda nor citizens died from gun shot wounds. This practice changes the nature of policing. The Irish maybe known for its drunken troublemakers at closing time, but families have no concern that the loved one will not make it home having had a run in with the Police on his or her way home from the pub.
It seems strange to hear American police officers, who dress as if they work in war zones, act as if they work in war zones if they are interacting with people of color, particularly Blacks and the mentally ill. Our heavily armed officers say that they shot a Black adolescent running away because they feared for their lives. When I hear this excuse I find it hard to believe because far more often than not, the police officers blew encounter out of all proportion. This week a young Black man was shot even though his hands were in the air.
I do not understand how police officers have such disregard for human life that they think it their right to shot to kill if they are momentarily fearful. There are always alternatives to shooting. They say they are taught to shoot to kill, why not shoot to maim? With the lying that goes on to cover up the inadequate reasons for shooting a Black child, for example, all of the officers who participate in forming the line and maintaining the thin blue line should be held seriously accountable because, if they were civilians, they could be charged with impeding a murder investigation. Police officers wrote the book on that practice.
American police officers have earned the fear of Blacks for even seeming inconsequential encounters, but the police, that is, the ones holding the guns, never consider how their behavior has traumatized the Black population. Worse, police officers issue commands with no hint of respect and never respond to the good manners with which their Black victims respond. I would found it impossible to comply if an officer spoke to me the way the speak to some of my friends. What right do they have to speak that way. Is that keeping order? I think it foolish to talk of defunding the police because that makes conservatives hysterical. Instead we should talk about reconfiguring the police and we should make sure that if people want to carry heavy weaponry, travel in Humvees, wear camoflage and jack boots encourage they join the army and do not hire them when they finish their tours of duty. Our police officers must stop thinking that citizens are the enemy.