Without directly engaging the issue of police bias or excessive use of force (about which I do not know enough to engage intelligently), I do want to address the issue of people being “unarmed” at the time of their encounters with law enforcement officers.
People often declare “the victim was unarmed at the time” to suggest that lethal force was not justified. But one of my best friends is an expert in the martial arts and could certainly kill me with his bare hands very quickly if he wanted to (not to mention his rattan sticks).
I have already addressed this issue in terms of citizen self-defense, but was reminded of it today when I saw a story about an Iowa father who was killed with one punch to the head by a (seemingly) random stranger: “De Moines man dies after single punch.”
It may be unlikely, but if you are the ONE in the one-in-a-million — like Ryan Thompson of Des Moines — it is a very grave matter for you, indeed.
The same is true of law enforcement officers. As in the case of the “unarmed” inmate who, despite being handcuffed, all of a sudden wasn’t unarmed and killed two bailiffs in St. Joseph, Michigan this week.
So, the issue isn’t whether someone is “armed” or “unarmed” when you engage them, but what sort of threat they pose. Certainly a person who is armed with a gun and bad intentions is a threat, as is someone armed with a knife, rattan stick, or fist.
At the same time, someone could be armed with a knife and NOT be posing a threat at the moment, as appears be the case with the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke (though Van Dyke has not yet been tried in court).
My bottom line: Those who want to move the conversation about police bias or excessive use of force forward would do well to establish whether or not the victim in question posed a threat instead of simply being “unarmed.”