Traffic Stop Killings: Who Should Be Afraid?
Aug. 28, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The Lake Charles, Louisiana Police Department recently issued a public service announcement video on what a person should do when they are pulled over by the police. The video correctly notes that there are 800,000 police officers in the United States making a bunch of traffic stops every day. This is the most common citizen-police contact in the country.
The video starts off well, talking about positioning the police vehicle, making the stop in a safe area, and so forth. Then, at about 1:35 in the video, the police mentality kicks in. The narrator notes that a traffic stop is dangerous because the police officer does not know if the driver of the stopped car is merely an average citizen or a violent criminal on a crime-spree.
As of 2012, the last data available, there are about 1,551,500 people in prison and another 744,500 in jails. About 721,200 of those are violent criminals. That works out to about 1/5th of one percent (0.22%) of the U.S. population. So because that 1/5th of one percent may be violent, the police are completely (in their mind) justified in treating the remaining 99.78% of the population like they may kill the officer at any minute.
You see, between 2001 and 2010, 95 officers died during traffic stops. Basically 10 officers a year. And not all of those were due to violence on the part of the vehicle occupants.
So, being aware of that, the video goes on, and at 3:00 in states that your “cooperation” is essential for the safety of everyone. You know, by just agreeing with everything the nice officer says, like confessing to the traffic violation. This is designed to prevent the officer from being shot and killed.
The problem is that the unarmed driver is far more likely to be shot by the police than the reverse.
As we have been discussing, 20% of the people shot and killed by police officers this year in the United States have been unarmed.
Darrius Stewart was unarmed and shot by police on a traffic stop for a broken headlight. In Memphis, of the 23 prior police shootings in the last five years, none resulted in criminal charges for the officer.
Sam Holmes was unarmed and shot by police on a traffic stop in Minnesota.
Walter Scott was unarmed and shot as he ran away from an officer in the back following a traffic stop in South Carolina.
Jose Roberto Leon, unarmed, was shot to death after being stopped on his motorcycle by the California Highway Patrol. In 30 years, only 2 officers have been prosecuted by Sacramento County. Police state that the unarmed man “carjacked” a vehicle when he was fleeing after having been shot, and then “barricaded” himself in a home, refusing to answer the officers at the door. Well, I don’t know about you, but if the police had just shot me and I fled for my life, I probably wouldn’t answer the door either. Leon bled to death in his father’s arms.
Deven Guilford, 17, unarmed, tased and then shot to death for flashing his headlights at Deputy Jonathan Frost’s squad car.
Rubén García Villalpando, unarmed, was shot to death by Grapevine, Texas, police at a traffic stop where Rubén approached the officer with his hands on top of his head. The officer was no-billed by the Tarrant County grand jury, but then again, all of the police officers who go before the grand jury in Tarrant County are no billed.
David Kassick, unarmed and lying face down on the ground after fleeing a traffic stop, shot twice in the back by Hummelstown, Pennsylvania police officer Lisa Mearkle. He had been stopped for expired inspection stickers. Mearkle has been charged in the homicide, although local groups have been conducting fundraisers for her defense.
The problem here is not how people handle the traffic stop. It is how the police handle the traffic stop.
Believe me, I’m all for being safe on traffic stops, I’ve probably made thousands of them over 20 years as a police officer. I’ve gone up to vehicles where the driver had a ten-inch butcher knife on the seat next to him — and still didn’t shoot him.
Okay, I did put the barrel of the revolver in his ear and told him in graphic detail what would happen if he continued to reach for the knife. But I didn’t shoot him.
When I was a teenager, the local police had a ride-along program in which I participated. The officer I was with put his revolver in a guy’s ear, because the guy thought he was back in the Korean War and was reaching for a rifle. He did not shoot the driver either.
I guarantee you that the officer was concerned about his own safety.
But at that time, officers realized that the citizen has as much as a right to go home alive as the officer did. Officers did everything possible to make sure that the officer went home at the end of their shift. They just took it one step further, and did everything possible to make sure that the citizen went home too.
I wonder if Lake Charles would be interested in a public service announcement on that subject?
Main image via Flickr/dwightsghost