In some senses, the accidental shooting of Duante Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn., is more troubling than an intentional shooting.
An intentional shooting involves judgment and a decision to use deadly force. An officer may use poor judgment or make the wrong decision in a high-stress confrontation, but an officer who shoots someone and means to do so has, at least in theory, a case to make for himself. “I thought this was the necessary thing to do in this specific situation” is not an answer that is always going to be satisfactory, but it is an answer that in almost every case deserves to be considered seriously.
“I didn’t know I had a loaded firearm in my hand” is not an answer that should receive much of a hearing — not even if it is true but especially if it is true. If the police departments are in fact sending people that poorly trained but nonetheless armed into the streets, then they are a danger to the people they purport to protect, and we’d be better off if they were like the British bobbies of old armed only with truncheons.
This sort of thing happens more than you would expect. I remember the case of a Philadelphia police officer who accidentally shot a ten-year-old boy in the face after drawing her firearm in the classroom in a “show and tell” demonstration. This isn’t Barney Fife in Mayberry — Philadelphia was at the time the fourth-largest city in the United States.
(It is now the sixth — monopoly Democratic governance at work.)
Police officers will always use deadly force, making it inevitable that at least some of them will use deadly force wrongly. If that is the result of individual failings, then that is a problem that is, ultimately, manageable. But an accidental shooting by a police officer who didn’t know that her pistol was a pistol isn’t an individual failing — that is institutional failure at work. There are still facts to be determined in the case, but if the facts of the story are as we currently understand them, then the entire department has to answer for it.