***Note: There are informational links at the end of the post.
Yesterday, former Dallas police officer and murderer Amber Guyger, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Botham Jean, a tenant in the same apartment building she lived in, in his own apartment while he was sitting and eating ice cream.
What got a lot of attention was when Botham’s younger brother, during his impact statement said, amongst other things, that he didn’t want Guyger to go to jail, he forgives her, and wants her to find Christ. He was then allowed to hug Guyger.
I’m not going to focus on that in this blog. I’m going to focus on Botham’s mother’s statement outside of the courtroom. You could feel both the grief of a mother who had lost her child through one of the stupidest incidents ever. You could also feel the fury of a person who is fed up; even more so now that the underlying racism and sociopathy of most cops had touched yet another family.
She talked about corruption in the Dallas Police Department. Having been born and raised in Dallas, I can attest to that. But then, she said something that people often say when things like this happen that I actually do not agree with. She intimated that if Guyger had been trained better (in this case, not to shoot in the chest), her son might still be alive.
That’s the part I want to talk about in this post; the notion that police officers are poorly trained and that’s why innocent people die.
Here’s a secret about The Wayward Daughter: I have a graduate degree in Forensic Psychology. I studied not only victims and defendants but police and policing as well. I studied how police are trained to trip people up in interrogation rooms. I studied how they get false confessions out of people. I studied their interrogation techniques. Not that I was ever under any other impression, but studying policing in the United States will quickly disabuse you of the Kindergarten belief that they are your friends that you can run to in times of peril for safety.
Police officers have high rates of things like domestic violence and alcoholism. Jordan v. New London, a case that made it all the way to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, affirmed that police departments can reject candidates whose IQ is too high. Many officers are veterans, which means there is likely a high presence of PTSD. Self-destructive behavior and hypervigilance are amongst a set of symptoms of PTSD. There’s also the fact that policing, much like the military, works on its members following orders as opposed to a lot of independent thought or judgment.
And then…these people are given a gun.
Someone who has issues with self-control, anger, substance abuse, is just bright enough to do what they’re told but not think through their actions in the moment, is skittish or quick to (over) react, or has been in a war zone, probably doesn’t need access to a weapon because they cannot be trusted to exercise their best judgment.
What am I saying?
I believe that many, if not most, police officers are individually at least 25% sociopathic or have antisocial traits that are severe enough to disqualify them from police work. Some of them didn’t start out that way. Some of them got into the blue fraternity, finally felt their life had purpose when someone handed them a badge and a gun, and lost their fucking mind. But, I also believe many more are much more sociopathic than not.
Add racism and implicit bias and that’s the perfect storm for cops losing their cool and people losing their life.
I don’t think all the training in the world would have saved Botham Jean. Guyger is a racist, who based on her social media, basked in having a job where she had the ability to take people’s lives and (based on what we know about police accountability), likely would never have to answer for her actions.
I’m glad the Jean family got a jury that wasn’t buying her bullshit about a mistaken apartment.
But, it’s time to let go of the narrative that if cops knew better, they’d do better. Eric Garner was killed by a cop who used an illegal chokehold. Daniel Pantaleo KNEW what he was doing was improper but did it anyway. No amount of training would have kept Pantaleo from doing what he did. The same goes for Amber Guyger.
Blaming it on training allows bad cops to get away with their bad behavior for longer. It makes people think that perhaps the training process was inadequate or maybe that officer was out sick when they were trained on how not to kill for no reason. It makes it seem like these cops don’t know what’s CLEARLY obvious to the rest of us.
(Another thing cops are trained to do is lie).
If I order a burger and the worker is having a bad day and throws my burger at me, they get fired. Nobody needs to train the employee to know that it’s not okay to throw a burger at someone. That’s common sense. Yet, people act like police officers are babies that don’t know better and must be walked through every scenario AFTER they kill someone and shown step-by-step how they messed up. This is worse when you think about the fact that training academies run from 6 to 12 weeks.
The only thing that’s going to address situations like Guyger and other murderous cops is a judicial system that is truly unbiased from the clerks through the DAs through the judges and for bad cops to be continually held accountable for their bad behavior. Police officers need to be held to the same standard as the rest of us. All of us are tired after a day at work. All of us have to deal with difficult people at work, be it the general public or co-workers. But the rest of us don’t get to use lethal force just because we’re tired, or stressed, or scared, or generally having a bad day. Policing needs a do-over.