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Monday Mar 4, 2024, Shaban 23, 1445 Hijri

The Police Occasionally Over-reacts

23 September, 2013

By Saeed Qureshi

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Last week an unarmed man, 24-year-old Jonathan A. Ferrell seeking help after a car crash was shot 12 times by the Charlotte police officer. The incident was widely reported by the media and remained a subject of discussion for many days on the TV channels. After the car accident the victim somehow reached a house and frantically knocked at the door for help. The inmate suspected that some burglar was trying to break in the house. She called the 911 for help that rushed to the venue. The injured person believing that police has come to his rescue, ran towards the police officers. The police officers feared that he was rushing towards them to attack. The police officer killed him with a volley of bullets.

Now this is not the first incident of its kind when police by using excessive force killed the suspect. In some cases they literally shot their target several times demonstrating what could be judged as their vengeance and excessive firepower. As such many individuals whose lives could be spared with more modest and cautious strategy lost their lives.

The traffic police tends to be mostly unforgiving and occasionally acts with unjustified vengeance. In minor cases, such as expiry of a token either of inspection or road tax, a driver with first violation could be let off with simple warning. In so many other cases where the police sergeant can take a lenient view, a heavy fine is imposed. In one of cases that I personally aware off, a person was fined $ 350 for not indicating to change the lane.

In some other cases an ignorant driver who had come to United State afresh went without realizing that a police officer wanted him to stop. Finally when he somehow stopped, he was shown a weapon, handcuffed and nabbed with rude expletives. His case dragged for a year in the court and finally he was indicted with five years probation besides heavy fines.

In my personal case I have never committed any traffic violation. I am a senior citizen too. I pay the taxes on time. My care is new and each year I take it for inspection. I seldom over-speed. But once on Green Oaks Boulevard in Tarrant County, I was stopped by a relatively young police officer for expiry of the yearly token. He could have warned with advice to get it revalidated. He issued me a ticket and I had to go through a torturous hassle for number of days starting from the payment of tax at one office, to final stage of showing that in the court.

In Western and particularly American movies we see encounters between the police and the culprits. In most of these movies, the police exercises all options before shooting their targets. Yet in practical life we come across entirely different scenarios. The police officers, more often than not, don't give a chance to the suspect for a dialogue or to declare their identities. Fearing a violent back lash, they prefer to kill the besieged person.

It appears that the police officers in America by and large suffer from a sense of paranoia that if they don't kill the opponent they would be killed in return. It could also be because of having a license to kill at will. In 2012 the number of people killed by non-military law enforcement officers is approximately 587. During the ongoing year of 2013 this number thus far stands at 183. These deaths did not specify as to who was at fault: the person killed or the officer involved. Mercifully all these killings have very few names from the immigrant communities now part of the American society as citizens or with some other legal status.

I can recall one incident of the shooting of a Pakistan youth some ten years ago in Houston. The young man was speeding on one of the highways in Houston when he saw the police car following him with lights on. Instead that he should have stopped, out of sheer fear he increased the speed of his car in order to escape. The police officer called for additional help and several police car started chasing him. The hapless boy entered his garage but in the meantime the police reached his house and encircled his garage. They showered the closed garage with bullets, killing the boy who was still in the car.

In this article I am not focusing on the police brutality which is a separate subject and merits another article. I am stressing the reckless way the police some time acts to nab the culprit but eventually resorts to point blank aiming at their targets. My understanding of the combats between the violators or law breakers on one side and the police on the other is that both are under some kind of compulsive phobia that they would be killed by the combatant if they don't preempt by shooting. Since police has more fire power, more manpower, ancillary support and organized network they invariably prevail. But it should be a prudent and preferred option if they somehow catch the culprit alive.

Even if they have to physically debilitate the target and render him or her immovable, they can shoot at the legs. While the person would be fallen and would not able to run, they can negotiate for his surrender both physically and weapon wise. To shoot at random perceiving that he was in possession of deadly weapon and must be killed is patently use of avoidable excessive force unless dictated by an indispensable situation like facing a group of unyielding outlaws or criminals.

If police acts with patience and with a mission of using minimum force for catching a criminal, several lives can be saved. It is possible that those who would be saved can turn out to be innocents and were unwittingly caught in a bizarre situation for no willful fault.

There is need for change in the police Manuel of duties. In that the police should be trained to not use force unless it was simply unavoidable. They should try to arrest or incapacitate the criminals first and if the situation gets unwieldy and the combatants refuse to surrender then the live ammunition can be used to vanquish them.

The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.

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