Here are some lessons we are learning the hard way:
- There are too many instances of police shootings. The Washington Post has been keeping count: Almost 1,000 this year, and counting. Forty-one involved unarmed black men.
- Policemen too often have to make split-second decisions when they come upon situations, and determine if there are people, including themselves, at risk. Making that decision can be horrendously difficult; and a wrong decision can be lethal, either to themselves, innocent third parties, or to the suspects they encounter.
- Prosecutors are incredibly cautious about second guessing that decision with criminal charges. The latest evidence came Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, where a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who in 2014 shot to death 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was holding a pellet gun. The decision was no surprise: The Cuyahoga County prosecutor had been releasing evidence along the way, outraging Rice’s family.
- We seem to be left, time and again, with the feeling that, as New Republic senior editor Jamil Smith said of the Cleveland shooting: “There are so many ways that this could have not happened.” Too many times, family and friends of victims are left feeling the police “shoot first, ask questions later.”
- Some police advocates justify that approach. But increasingly, there is a search for alternatives. In Chicago alone, police have fatally shot dozens of people in recent years. Just by way of comparison: Could we be more like Iceland? This month that country grieved the first fatal police shooting. Since it became independent. In 1944.