Are police officers above the law?

The results of the inquest into the shooting death of John Williams by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk have come back and while they state that the shooting was unjustified, no criminal charges will be filed. Understandably, many folks are more than a bit angered. One friend of mine posted on her Facebook wall “WTF?! This cop should be executed in the same way that he murdered this defenseless, innocent man. Un@#%&ingbelievable!” Many of her friends chimed in in agreement. To her credit, when I called her on such an inflammatory posting she redacted it slightly, saying that I shouldn’t take it literally, that she was just angered.

It raises an important question though. What should a community do when a member of law enforcement unjustifiably, but without malice, shoots someone?

While the inquest didn’t find him “guilty”, everyone involved, including Officer Birk, seems to agree that the shooting was a mistake. But mistakes happen all the time and decisions made when under duress, in the blink of an eye, are not always the same ones we’d make when given time to reflect. Of course all the time that goes in to training a police officer is suppose to hone those officers’ decision making skills so that mistakes that the average citizen would make while under duress wouldn’t be made by the officer. It seems, then, that perhaps Officer Birk’s training was not all it should have been. Or perhaps Officer Birk just wasn’t fit to be a cop. I think most people will agree it’s a good thing that he chose to resign and find another line of work. But calling for his head; even calling for him to be charged with manslaughter and thrown in prison, is a dangerous road to go down.

First of all, I’m guessing that Officer Birk isn’t some bloodthirsty murderer who had it out for Native woodcarvers and joined the force just to be given the opportunity to go around shooting them. He’s going to have to live with the mistake he made for the rest of his life. Like most people who have killed another person, even if completely justified, the mark it will leave on his conscious will not soon disappear. He’ll likely be tormented by flashbacks and PTSD, so as a community, while our hearts go out to the family of John Williams, our hearts should also go out to Officer Birk.

There are some folks who always like to jump up when an officer shoots someone, even completely justifiably, and use what I like to call the “Dirty Harry” argument. “The guy only had a knife! Why didn’t the cop just shoot it out of his hand?” Really? Tell you what. I’m going to stand 30 feet away with a knife, act a little crazy, make some threatening gestures and start coming toward you. I’m going to bet that your survival instincts kick in pretty fast and you do whatever is necessary to stop me; including shooting at the biggest target you have: my chest; not my hand, arm or leg and certainly not the knife. This is not the movies and Jason Bourne does not exist so let’s put that myth to rest right away. That’s not to say that John Williams was charging at Officer Birk with his knife swinging through the air but since there were only a few people on that corner that day and, if after all their testimony and the testimony of other expert witnesses, half the members of the inquest jury came away believing that Officer Birk did feel his life was in danger, it means that there are enough questions that remain unanswered that no one will know for sure what was really going through Officer Birk’s mind and what the appropriate response should have been. After all, Seattleites are not typically known as gun-toting, trigger-happy, anti-Native American racists so if they’re willing to give Officer Birk a pass then he probably deserves one.

Of course, if Citizen Smith had shot John Williams and then claimed that Williams was making a marginally threatening gesture with a knife, it’s a fairly good bet that Citizen Smith would be facing five to ten years as a guest of the state for manslaughter for using what the law calls “imperfect self defense.” If the prosecutor was feeing lucky he might even be able to pin him with second-degree murder. So does this mean that, because the only difference between Citizen Smith and Officer Birk is a badge that law enforcement is above the law? Well, yes. From something as simple as being allowed to speed toward the scene of a crime all the way up to being allowed to use deadly force; even force so deadly it can wipe an entire city off the map (after all, the president is the top law-enforcement agent in the nation), we’ve given certain folks extra rights to operate outside the law in order to enforce it. It’s the tradeoff we make for living in a civilized society. We trust that these people will act properly outside the confines of the law that the rest of us must follow and, generally, they do. Sometimes, though, they make tragic mistakes. We, of course, still have certain guidelines or laws they must follow when living outside the other laws. If an officer’s supervisor got wind of him speeding around just for the thrill of it he’d be heavily reprimanded. And any time a cop discharges his weapon, even justifiably, he has to fill out reams of paperwork. If it was found that a general ordered the mass slaughter of an entire village of civilians, he’d be dishonorably discharged and would probably spend the rest of his days in Leavenworth. (At least he should be. Unfortunately justice isn’t always perfect.) But any of these law enforcement officials facing such charges must be investigated and given a fair trial. What’s more, they must be given a bit longer leash than the rest of us.

The problem with charging Officer Birk with manslaughter, even if his civilian counterpart would have been, is that, the next time an officer is on the street and someone starts swinging a knife around, instead of taking the shot that officer may recall what happened to Officer Birk and, even if he does choose to take action after weighing the pros and cons, the extra seconds he spends doing so may cost him and others their lives. The same argument can be made for how we’re waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should certainly discipline, even to the point of imprisonment, any soldier who uses excessive force or who does not follow the rules of engagement, but when we’re talking about Mirandizing combatants we meet in the field of battle and treating war like some routine traffic stop, we make soldiers second-guess their actions or, perhaps, choose not to take action at all. After all, why would any soldier risk his life to capture the enemy if he thinks he may be charged with a crime for doing so or that the enemy he captures may just end up being freed a few months later.

Instead of calling for the blood or our own police officers and soldiers because some may make mistakes, we should thank them for putting their lives on the line every day in defense of ours and if we really are facing problems of poor decision making in the field, as it appears is the case with the shooting of John Williams, we should make sure the training and screening process of our officers is the best it can be so we can better trust the decisions they make.

GOP Calling for Reid’s Resignation as Stupid as Comments Themselves


It’s come to light that Harry Reid made what most people are calling racist comments during President Obama’s bid of the Democratic nomination. GOP leaders are now calling for his resignation. STUPID! Why?

First of all, while Reid, in uttering the comments, didn’t show the best use of judgment, they were far from racist. Let’s be honest here. There are many reasons Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson never got the nod and one of them definitely has to do with their oratory style and choice of words while on the campaign trail. So just because Reid made an observation that most people would agree with but are too politically correct to utter themselves doesn’t mean he’s racist, just that we live in a culture where, right or wrong, politicians have to choose their words extra carefully and he didn’t.

And it isn’t as if Republicans haven’t made their fair share of gaffs so it shows equally poor judgment and hypocrisy to open that can of worms. Why not focus on, oh, I don’t know, THE ISSUES? (Yes, I know, the issues are complex and it’s easier to pander to the lowest common denominator in society, making a fuss over race, gay marriage and other things that most people really don’t care about when compared to other things like the economy or terrorism, but maybe we could give it a try?)

And if the GOP really wants to focus on ousting racist US Senators they could focus on one who has a proven record of racist behavior like third in the line for the presidency, President Pro-Tem of the Senate and former Exalted Cyclops in the KKK, Robert “Sheets” Byrd. Even that, though, would be a waste of energy compared to what they should be doing: waging the war on terror and getting government out of the way so the economy can prosper on its own.

Diversity Santa

This Christmas come get your kids’ pictures taken at Nordstrom with ‘Diversity Santa”! That’s right. You can choose which race of Santa your kids will get their photos taken with.

Now, I’m all for diversity. I believe Santa, as a symbol of Christmas, a holiday celebrated by almost every race and culture around the world, can and should be portrayed as Black, Asian, Indian, Hispanic and any other race you can name. I just question why some have to make such a big deal about it.

Liberals like to claim how they love diversity and want to extinguish racism but by continuing to make such a big deal about race, underscoring the fact that there’s a “Diversity Santa” or having people mark a bubble denoting their race, all the while continuing to scream that America is racist (never mind that we’re the first “White” country in history to elect a Black person president) they continue to perpetuate the very same racism they pretend to want to eradicate.

I guarantee that if the census stopped asking people which race they belonged to; if liberals stopped making such a big deal about race; and if we all just focused on being Americans instead of hyphenated Americans, Dr. King’s dream of people being judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin, would come true.

Racist Marketing

Morton’s look at targeting minorities was completely out of line. Sure, public relations must segment groups and these groups do include races and in that I do applaud Morton for what she points out would probably be considered racists. She is a bit hypocritical, however, in that in the introduction she states that she will describe three minority groups in non-stereotypical ways then goes on to do exactly that and very much so.

She describes African-Americans as valuing personal style more than Caucasians. I see she got this information from Rossman’s Multicultural Marketing. What I want to know is where Rossman got this idea. When I read that sentence I immediately thought of the stereotypical “70’s ghetto pimp” that so many people of all races like to mock come Halloween, someone straight out of Shaft. Is that what valuing personal style means? As for me, the black people I know (and again, maybe these aren’t stereotypical blacks) aren’t caught up in fashion any more so than white people. Then again maybe Morton has a point and my views are just influenced by the fact that most clothing designers don’t market to the black population. She does it again by stating that almost half of black households are headed by women, and this after stating that blacks value families. Tell me something, why does the fact that a family is headed by a women make it more instilled with family values? Of course I may not be hanging out with the stereotypical black crowd but from what I’ve seen and heard, blacks value patriarchy just as much if not more than whites and to have a household headed by a woman would lead me to believe that the father is just not in the picture, a single parent household in other words which, by most people’s definition, would not be one full of family values compared to a similar family with two parents.

Again, I do applaud Morton for pointing out that marketing must be ethnically specific. Too often today our society has been too focused on being politically correct and “color blind.” But that doesn’t help. The sooner everyone realizes that everyone comes from different cultures and subcultures and that these cultures have different values, mores, and norms that should be recognized and celebrated, as well as having people being able to laugh at themselves but also recognizing that it is okay to be different, the sooner the whole world will get along.

But I digress, Morton does well in pointing this out but she needs to make sure she gets it right and doesn’t attempt to reinforce negative stereotypes or engage in mildly underhanded marketing ploys. There’s nothing wrong with putting a happy two-parent black family together in front of a computer and, in fact, that is wise marketing. If one were to follow Morton’s advise she’d be putting a “Shaft” look-alike with a single mother and two other snot-nosed kids in front of a computer which these “stereotypical” blacks would never buy. But again, maybe I’m completely wrong and every apartment in Compton has a brand new Dell desktop, Sony DVR, and digital camera.

Reverse racism

I wrote this after a discussion in Freshman English during which the professor and an African-American girl decided to gang up on me (well, they tried at least) and spin the old liberal yarn that “minorities” can’t be racist. The professor flippantly challenged me to write a paper defending my position (and, I’m guessing, not expecting me to, as he was quite shocked when I walked into his office and handed what follows to him the very next day). He handed it back with all sorts of fallacious arguments and a few ad-hominem attacks, claiming it was a “diatribe.” Quality education. At least most of my professors weren’t as close-minded and completely idiotic as this guy.


First off, I would like to challenge the point that English is not a race.  Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language College Edition defines race as “any geographical, national, or tribal ethnic grouping.”  I rest my case.

Your challenge to me specifically to write an essay arguing in favor of the idea that only people in superior positions of society can be racist has got to be one of the most ignorant things I have ever heard a teacher say.  Yes, an open mind is one of the signs of intelligence but for me to argue that only white people can be racist makes less sense than arguing that Hitler was justified in sending six million Jews to the gas chambers.  At least some evidence can be twisted around to show that Jews did cause economic strife in 1920’s Europe.  There is not a shred of evidence indicating that blacks, Chinese, Mexicans, etc. are incapable of being racist toward whites.

Secondly, I would like to strongly protest your idea that the only people who can be racist are those who are in a position of power over the race they are racist toward.  Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language College Edition defines racism as “racialism.”  “Racialism” is defined by the same source as “a doctrine or feeling of racial differences or antagonisms, especially with reference to supposed racial superiority, inferiority, or purity; racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination.”  The portion of this definition I would like to concentrate on most is “racial prejudice.”  This means prejudging someone solely on his or her race.  If this is the case, and according to Webster and me, it is, then anyone can be racist.  The black girl in our class who commented that she could have “black pride” but that I could not have “English pride” is a consummate example of a racist.  (N.B. she is black!)  For the sole reason that I was descendent from Anglo-Saxons, she felt I had no right to have pride in my heritage.  She, on the other hand, is allowed to be proud of her African heritage.  This is known as a double standard and this particular double standard is just as racist as many classic double standards of pre-1960s Southern US.  I refer to blacks having to sit at the rear of the bus, blacks not being allowed to sit at lunch counters, blacks not being allowed to vote, etc.  Back in the days I referred to blacks did not feel pride in their heritage.  The “doll experiment” you referred to is a perfect example.  Thanks to figures like Martin Luther King Jr., though, blacks now feel pride for their heritage.  Does it seem fair now that they should be the only ones allowed to feel this pride?  Shouldn’t people of European descent be able to feel pride as well?  Shouldn’t Irish be able to have a parade every St. Patrick’s Day?  Shouldn’t Germans be able to hold similar festivities during Oktoberfest?

Don’t feel bad about your German heritage, Dr. Weihe.  Germans may have caused two of the most horrible wars in the history of this planet but they also did many good things too.  They make great cars.  They invented Hot Dogs and Hamburger.  They gave the English language many great words.  Without the help of Werner Von Braun, a great German scientist, there never would have been a man on the moon in 1969.  Martin Luther was a German and I am grateful to him for leading the Protestant Reformation.  And who could live without the music of Bach.  The list goes on and on and not just with German accomplishments but with Chinese accomplishments, English accomplishments, Ethiopian accomplishments, Inca accomplishments, Basque accomplishments, etc., etc.  One would be hard pressed to find a culture that has not contributed something to Earth’s population.  Everyone should take pride in whatever culture he or she is descended from.  That is one of the things that makes America the greatest country on Earth.  You can eat Chinese food for dinner and go to an Italian Opera one night then the next night you can eat Ethiopian food and go to a didjeridu concert.  Even though English is the common language of America; traveling coast to coast you could hear every language on earth from Indonesian to Navajo and Aleut to Portuguese.  If we do not take pride in our individual heritages, they will soon die.  Imagine how boring that would be.  Plus, if we all try so hard to be “color blind” we will not be directing our efforts toward more creative endeavors.