The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

Stop Demonizing the Columbus Police Officer

Investigators work at the scene where a fatal shooting by a police officer occurred in Columbus, Ohio, April 20, 2021. (Gaelen Morse/Reuters)

On the menu today: How prominent Democratic officials are demonizing a justified police shooting in Columbus, Ohio, ensuring that police will now be even less likely to use force in critical situations; and the mounting pile of unintended consequences to Democratic government policies.

Democratic Control of Government and Unintended Consequences

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Wednesday morning: “While the verdict was being read in the Derek Chauvin trial, Columbus police shot and killed a sixteen-year-old girl. Her name was Ma’Khia Bryant. She should be alive right now.”

Valerie Jarrett, one of the most powerful women in the federal government for about eight years, declared, “a Black teenage girl named Ma’Khia Bryant was killed because a police officer immediately decided to shoot her multiple times in order to break up a knife fight. Demand accountability. Fight for justice.”

Robert Reich, former secretary of Labor and current UC Berkeley professor, added: “Just yesterday, shortly before the guilty verdict was announced, police killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Yet another young life stolen. In what world is this public safety?”

The ACLU of Ohio declared: “The systems that allowed George Floyd to be murdered remain FULLY intact. Moments after we celebrated a win for police accountability in Minneapolis, news broke that Columbus Police murdered a 15 year old Black girl.”

There is no indication that any of these people care that Ma’Khia Bryant was about to stab another teenage girl — as seen in the police body-cam footage and separate security-camera footage. As a neighbor who witnessed the incident described it, “Unfortunately, the cop had only seconds to respond. Once I saw the body cam video, I realized the young lady had a knife. It could have been worse. It could have been two people dead if he didn’t respond as fast as he did.”

Notice that the knee-jerk, uncorrected, and un-retracted denunciations of the Columbus Police above are not from random anonymous lunatics on Twitter. This is not nut-picking. This is a U.S. senator, a former top adviser to the president, a fairly widely read columnist of the left, and the state chapter of a major political-litigation group — all relatively mainstream Democrats and progressives with significant followings and prestige. And this isn’t even getting into how arguably the most famous professional athlete of our era posting a photo (since deleted) of the police officer and declaring, “You’re next.

Once you’re demonizing a cop for intervening with deadly force when one teenage girl is about to stab another teenage girl, you are effectively attempting to abolish the police.

You may recall the debate about the “Ferguson Effect,” the notion that cops, particularly in bad neighborhoods in big cities, were no longer willing to proactively take action to stop crime, for fear of being painted as racist and abusive.

To a lot of conservatives and instinctive defenders of the police — a Venn Diagram that overlaps a lot, but not completely — the theory made sense. A lot of liberals and instinctive critics of the police largely rejected the theory — because it meant that their often-incendiary criticism of police, and contention that all cops were part of a racist, unjust, and corrupt system, could have disastrous consequences for innocent people.

Quite a few institutions and publications — such as the Center for American Progress, Reuters, The Intercept, and Bloomberg CityLab — insisted the Ferguson Effect was a myth.

One glaring problem with their insistence that cops were not reluctant to use force or be as proactive is that the cops kept insisting this was indeed the case. A survey from 2017 states that:

More than three-quarters of U.S. law enforcement officers say they are reluctant to use force when necessary, and nearly as many — 72% — say they or their colleagues are more reluctant to stop and question people who seem suspicious as a result of increased scrutiny of police, according to a new study published Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The wide-ranging, national survey — which includes feedback from 8,000 officers and sheriff’s deputies — quantifies just how pervasive the issue has become in departments across the U.S. in the aftermath of a series of controversial deadly encounters between police and African-American suspects.

And in May 2016, FBI director James Comey, who had not yet risen to media secular sainthood status for being fired by Donald Trump, said that he believed that something akin to the Ferguson Effect was at work:

James Comey, the director, said that while he could offer no statistical proof, he believed after speaking with a number of police officials that a “viral video effect” — with officers wary of confronting suspects for fear of ending up on a video — “could well be at the heart” of a spike in violent crime in some cities.

“There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime — the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’” he told reporters.

The New York Times argued that the Ferguson Effect might be a good thing, because some neighborhoods were “over-policed.”

Vox raised the fairer point that a potential implication of the Ferguson Effect was that criticism of the police — whether warranted or not — and effective policing could not coexist. “Cops can only keep the peace if citizens don’t look too closely at how they do it. . . . You can’t force people to support police.”

The odd thing is that no one voted to enact the Ferguson Effect. No one passed legislation ordering cops to be less proactive in dangerous neighborhoods. It just happened as a result of the often-angry and hyperbolic discussion of policing in the aftermath of Ferguson. The risks and incentives for cops changed dramatically because of the media coverage, public reaction, and the attitudes of public officials.

Even worse, that angry and hyperbolic discussion was largely based upon inaccurate descriptions of what happened during the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown. Both a local grand jury and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation concluded that Michael Brown did not have his hands up and beg the police not to shoot. From the DOJ report:

While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson – i.e., balling them, holding them out, or pulling up his pants up – and varying accounts of how he was moving – i.e., “charging,” moving in “slow motion,” or “running” – they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and “charging” at Wilson.

“Hands up, don’t shoot,” did not happen.

And now, in 2021, we have the textbook example of a justified police shooting, preventing an imminent violent crime and potentially even a fatal stabbing, caught on not one but two videos from different angles . . . and the police officer is still becoming national news and cast as a racist villain, and being demonized by Democratic U.S. senators, former top officials, progressive interest groups, and talking heads.

Just how do you think police forces will respond to this?

All around us, we’re starting to see consequences of reckless policy decisions, warnings unheeded, and objections dismissed.

Actions have consequences, often including unintended consequences, which is why we should act carefully and deliberately, and pause to recalibrate often. You can consider that capital-C “Conservatism,” small-c conservatism, or just hard-learned life wisdom.

ADDENDUM: Man, I think I owe “TM” a beer for this Amazon review of Between Two Scorpions:

Cadence can make all the difference in a book, and to me that is where this stand outs. The action rolls on in an unpredictable manner, with quips, and interruptions, and extended deep-dives. Every next corner is a new reading adventure. It matches the tone of the book, and keeps the reader engaged beyond the characters and storyline.

Jim mixes in light moments and references that accentuate the moment and make the reader feel comfortable in the setting. This only draws the reader further into the plot, and endears us to the characters all the more.

Chilling and still, occasionally almost light-hearted, it presents a world where I, as the reader, felt very at home. Too often books of this genre are all action all the time, and while that can be enjoyable, it makes it feel far away. The manic back and forth from real life to spy life feels more genuine that most other books of the type.

Jim is a storyteller, and it comes through. A great read.

I’m fairly certain I’m not related to that person. BTS is $3.99 on Kindle, $12.90 with Amazon Prime.


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