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Sunday, November 08, 2015

the view from 1968: the moral and practical problem of encouraging police to shoot to kill

In 1968, Ramsey Clark, at that time the Attorney General, made a speech in response to Mayor Daley’s remark, about rioters in Chicago, that the police should shoot to kill looters. The speech is relevant now, when the head of the FBI and the DEA have expressed support for police responding immediately and lethally in situations that would formerly have been handled with the finesse police should be trained in. Oh, they didn’t express that support directly – the FBI head and the DEA head were sneakier than that, saying that the emphasis on police killings was contributing to a rise in crime.
Here’s a graf from Clark’s speech.
“A reverence for life is the sure way of reducing violent death. There are few acts more likely to cause guerilla warfare in our cities and division and hatred among our people than to encourage police to shoot looters or other persons caught committing property crimes. How many dead twelve year old boys will it take for us to learn this simple lesson?”

Thousands, it turns out, and we still haven’t learned it. The police poobahs think they are making their case by showing how shooting at the police has increased dramatically; what they are really showing is that police methods which visit lethal injuries on numbers of people who have done little or nothing more than crossed a lane without turning on a signal or the like produce an atmosphere where the cops become the target themselves. 

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