Some US policemen believe that they must be “warriors” to control the situation at all costs, leading to many deadly abuses of force.
34 years ago, two agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began an investigation into threats to the police force. Two agents travel to American prisons, interviewing 50 inmates convicted of police killings to find out their motives.
Most criminologists today call such studies pseudoscience. 50 survey subjects is too small a number and the bottom line is that the accounts of criminals who kill police officers are often unreliable.
However, the conclusion of their study titled “Killed in the line of duty” appeared widely in the media at the time, and over the decades promoted by the Department of Justice, it gradually became ingrained. into the culture of American law enforcement.
In the study, two FBI agents listed salient features in the behavior of the murdered policemen, including some notable characteristics such as “friendly”, “beloved by the people and colleagues”. , “tend to use force less than other officers” and “only consider force as a last resort”.
After conversations in prison, two FBI agents concluded that police killers often attack officers with “good attitudes.” They argued that an officer’s inability to immediately control a suspect increased the risk of death. “Mistakes in assessing the requirement to apply controls in specific situations can have dire consequences,” the two study authors warn.
Although this research is currently rarely cited publicly, some of the “lessons” drawn from it persist as part of the culture of the US police force, such as the belief that wearing a pair of shoes is not a good idea. glossy makes officers easy targets for attack.
According to commentator David Kirkpatrick of New YorkerSuch “lessons” gradually became the “warrior mindset” in American police force culture, teaching officers to view most civilians as a potentially lethal “assassin”. This is the mindset that many police trainers still convey to their trainees, even when the police-confrontation mentality is no longer common these days.
According to observers, the case of five Memphis police officers who beat young Tire Nichols to death earlier this month is a reminder that the mindset of “oppression or death” still exists in the US law enforcement force.
Body-mounted cameras and surveillance videos released by the city of Memphis on January 27 showed a group of officers stopped Nichols’ car and they were inclined to use force in the first place.
This group of police did not provide any evidence as to why Nichols was stopped, other than information that he “crossed the road recklessly”. “Is he accused of anything?” the operator asked the officers over the radio at the time, but the officers gave no answer.
The team’s efforts to quickly subdue Nichols appear to have turned a normal traffic check into a deadly “rain of blows”. At the training school, officers are taught never to stick themselves in an open car window, because the driver could press the accelerator, causing the officer to be dragged down the road. But after Nichols apparently refused to get out of the car, an officer ducked through a window deep inside the car to pull him out and knock him to the ground.
While the four officers grabbed his limbs, Nichols’ reaction was still very light: “I didn’t do anything!.. Okay, okay, okay, OK… I was on the ground, yes, sir, yes, sir… I just want to go home.”
However, the officers kept shouting orders and swearing as if they were in a life-or-death struggle. One officer asked him to lie down on his stomach, while another ordered him to turn his back. Under a series of contradictory orders, Nichols appeared confused as to who to obey.
Nichols had no weapons and was not physically tall. He has Crohn’s disease, a disease that makes him quite thin, 1m9 tall but only 65 kg, according to his mother Nichols. The officers, like Nichols, were all colored, and all looked almost twice his size.
In a recorded exchange after the incident, officers told each other that Nichols wanted to steal their guns. But Seth W. Stoughton, a use of force expert and former police officer, said the video of the encounter made that claim absurd.
In fact, there were many indications that officers had no qualms with Nichols. Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who testified at the trial of a Minneapolis officer convicted of killing black man George Floyd in 2020, noted that police often shouted immediately ie if the suspect wants to steal his gun. During their encounter with Nichols, all five did not.
When he was electrocuted, Nichols ran away, but the police team quickly caught up with him. They then continuously punched, kicked, and hit the key points on his body just because he did not obey orders. These are commands like “Lie down,” “Lie straight out,” or “Put your hands behind your back.”
Nichols cried out in pain, calling for help, calling his mother because he knew his mother’s house was nearby. As Nichols fell unconscious and remained handcuffed, one officer even mocked his desperate mother’s calls. “He has a mother too,” said the policeman.
Nichols died three days later in the hospital.
The officers who beat him were part of a 40-police unit called SCORPION. Memphis created the unit in November 2021 to address the rise in homicides and gun violence during the pandemic.
Since then, officials have hailed the success of the SCORPION unit by citing statistics showing how well it operates, from the amount of money, guns and cars seized to the number of suspects arrested. .
According to Stoughton, while authorities ignore information on whether arrests lead to convictions or even reduce crime, such figures only encourage the tendency to use force.
“You’re focusing on quantity rather than legitimacy. 30 years of research tells us that’s a bad idea,” he said.
Targeted police units like SCORPION, which focus on certain high-crime neighborhoods, have a history of controversy. Scandals have occurred at the Rampart unit, in Los Angeles, and the Firearms Task Force, in Baltimore, among other similar units. The Memphis Police Department also said over the weekend that it had decided to disband SCORPION.
Along with the notion that not being able to control a subject increases the risk of police being killed, research from the 1990s also seeded another view in police culture that stopping cars is special. dangerous for officers.
That notion stems from the misuse of statistics that claim that a large proportion of police are killed in roadside stops. In fact, the rate of police deaths when stopping cars is not higher than in other missions.
However, units like SCORPION, set up to tackle gangs, guns and drugs, do not penalize violators for speeding or other traffic violations. Instead, they often rely on such administrative violations to ask the driver to stop the car and check everything inside the car.
Convinced that they would risk their lives every time they stopped a vehicle, many officers prepared themselves for a life-or-death confrontation. Few people can be as aggressive as the five officers who beat Nichols to death, but their belligerence has the potential to cause a driver to panic, lead to resistance behavior, and increase the risk of deadly violence. experts.
Stopping the vehicle to check because the officer “felt something was wrong” has also proven to be ineffective. Five officers spent the night dealing with Nichols, an unarmed civilian who could have dealt with more dangerous criminals.
Many studies have concluded that such a method of vehicle screening to seize firearms, drugs or contraband in the United States is an ineffective and sometimes counterproductive strategy. They keep law-abiding citizens in high-crime neighborhoods away from the police, while the authorities desperately need citizens’ cooperation.
After the death of George Floyd, police and prosecutors in jurisdictions from Philadelphia to Los Angeles are working to end the unexcused stops altogether. Fayetteville, North Carolina, was one of the first to experiment with this approach more than a decade ago.
Complaints about Fayetteville police have decreased, and traffic deaths have also decreased, while gun violence or drug crime have not increased significantly. And surely Tire Nichols would still be alive if the police hadn’t stopped his car on that fateful night, according to commentator Kirkpatrick.
Vu Hoang (Theo New Yorker)