“But You Don’t Understand!”


You cannot answer an emotional question with a legal answer!

From time to time, I get the opportunity to talk to today’s cops about today’s problems. With one foot still in the “culture,” and the other foot in the community, I think I have a perspective that could be helpful as to what’s going on and what needs to be done.

For example, at one meeting a young African-American woman (a correctional officer) explained how her husband, a military veteran, was coming out of a store when he was stopped by police, told to get on the ground (in which he wisely complied), handcuffed, taken to the police station, stood in a lineup, and was released two hours later. He was not the suspect police had thought he was.

Now this is not an unfamiliar story among American blacks. She stated this incident still leaves her angry because the police did not apologize.

Listening to this story were a number of police officers. One officer questioned the lady as to why there should be an apology. “The police did nothing wrong. They lawfully detained your husband because they reasonably and legally believed was a suspect. When their investigation revealed he was not the person they wanted, they released him. They did nothing wrong!”

“But they should have apologized!” she argued.

“Why?” the officer responded, “They did nothing wrong!”

Well, that’s it. That’s the rut, the loop, in which I find many conversations going between police and people of color.

I intervened. I had just taught them about emotional intelligence and how it is an important part of police hiring, training, and leadership development and practice. I had told them earlier in the day that Emotional Intelligenceconsisted of 1) self-awareness, 2) self-management, 3) empathy, and 4) relationship skills. While our I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient) was pretty much set at birth, we could improve our E.Q. (Emotional Intelligence). So, we needed to think of ways we could improve ourselves in each of these four categories

What was not going on here was that the police officer was thinking legally and not emotionally.

What should have happened? The suspect should have been given a thorough apology and should have been thanked for his cooperation.

Why? Empathy matters in these situations and being empathic can build trust and cooperation within an entire community when it is practiced – and certainly between two human persons. That is why the practice of E.I. is a part and parcel of Procedural Justice: Listening to others, being respectful, fair decision-making, explaining the system, and being helpful.

There is another similar, but more emotional conversation that is also blocked because of not being able to practice empathy build relationship skills. And that has to do with use of deadly force by police. To the charge, “You killed my son!” police often response legally when the question is not really about legality, but one about pain and grief. You cannot answer an emotional question with a legal answer!

When community meetings are held about a police shooting, the police and district attorney give a legal answer (most likely that the officers feared for their lives and the law reasonably permits them to protect their lives – for more see Graham v. Connor.

The answer, again, is that the officers did nothing illegal. But more often than not the explanation, the answer, does not include an apology and the un-uttered question, “Do you feel my pain?”

Instead, I would suggest this type of response (and it will take courage):

“Ma’am, I am so sorry that the officers felt they had to use deadly force in this situation. You should expect us to save lives and in this situation we did not — and we are terribly sorry. I can assure you that this incident will be thoroughly looked at and we will do everything we can to assure this will not happen again. We have let you down. I am so sorry.”

When I explained to the police officers present that the scenario black America most likely sees today is the following:

Police shoot and kill a young black man. The black community is angry and outraged because they do not trust the police to act fairly on their behalf. An independent outside investigation is conduct along with a prosecutorial review by the district attorney – both investigations find no fault – there was compliance to both the department’s training and the state law under “Graham v. Connor.”

The black community protests. Trouble may occur in the community at this time if it did not immediately after the shooting. The police department and DA’s office bunkers in.

The grieving parents, not sensing they have been treated justly, retain an attorney and sue the city under the civil code. A jury of peers, after hearing evidence submitted by the plaintiff (deceased person’s family) and respondent (city) return a judgement in favor of the plaintiff for a sum generally between $2 and $6 million.

When I illustrated this situation, the police response was familiar, “Well, that’s because the judgement standard for a civil case is “preponderance of evidence” and that of a criminal trial requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” (Meaning that somehow the first decision was fairer than the second?) After all, the black community most likely sees a majority of jurors in the civil case believed the police were wrong.

We must remember that a criminal prosecution of a police officer for illegal use of force is extremely rare and means that the police officer, if convicted, would go to prison. In the civil case, I sense the jury is judging the fairness and necessity of police using force in the case presented to them. That’s a big difference especially when the officer is only following his training and the law.

And so it goes on, city after city, shooting after shooting.

What should happen?

City leaders (including police) experiencing use of deadly force by a police officer must acknowledge the loss and the grief by giving it voice. They must also visibly work to reduce these incidents (particularly those in which involved a firearm). “We will fix this!

This means police must commit to valuing the sanctity of human life. That means training and directing police to effectively respond to those mentality ill and/or experiencing a mental health crisis in light of this. This would include training in de-escalating these encounters and using deadly force only when absolutely necessary (the European Union Standard).

If we are going to have healthy communities and healthy police, this must be an on-going dialogue in which the community is asked to state their expectations about the use of deadly force and what they expect their police to do in these situations.

Let me put it this way. Most instances of police use of deadly force are found to be consistent with department policy, training and the state law. A large number of those shootings, when judged by a jury under the standard of a preponderance of evidence find fault with the police and award the family of the person killed with settlements in millions of dollars.

In the meantime, the same number of fatalities occur annually [about 1,000] since these numbers were first gathered by journalists in 2015).

What’s wrong with this picture?


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