Friday, July 8, 2016


I'm going to get back on my political pony here, and flog it a bit.  If it's not your thing, that's fine.  Skip the post, and I'll be back to autism in a bit.

I want to talk about the recent police killings: we've seen cops killing civilians and people targeting the cops with assault rifles in retaliation.  Things have gotten so out of hand, but I've yet to see anyone address the obvious cause.  And despite the horrific headlines, no one has any apparent answers.

If you are confused about why this is happening, the answer's actually pretty simple: our gun laws.

Easy civilian access to high-powered weaponry makes every single situation involving police officers more dangerous.

Why?  Because the police here in the U.S. have to deal with the very real possibility that any person they encounter could be packing heat, which leads to them making the (completely reasonable) assumption that everyone they have to deal with is armed and dangerous.

Police are just like us: they want to get home safely, period.  That is their primary concern when dealing with a dangerous suspect, and I don't blame them at all for assuming the worst of us.  You can't trust just anyone with the capacity to inflict immense violence on a whim, and I would go so far as to say that many (not all) of the people most inclined to carry guns around in public are the people I would trust least to use those guns responsibly and safely.

Take this gentleman for example:

Probably a good thing he didn't have an assault rifle, eh?

But even with a machete, hands up if you think this man survives in the U.S.  No one?  You're right - he'd be dead in 10 seconds.  This is a psychotic break - he is quite clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis.  Should we kill people for being mentally ill?  Obviously we should not, but of course we do. 

This is the U.S. approach:

Now none of this is to dismiss the role of systemic and individual racism, both conscious and unconscious, in the shootings we are seeing here in the U.S.  It is clear that black men are killed by the police in disproportionate numbers:

police shooting by race
But why are so many Americans killed by the police, period?  The answer is clear and obvious.  Guns.

The numbers are simply shocking.  I strongly encourage you to read this article comparing police shootings between countries.  U.S. police kill more people in days than other countries' police forces do in years.  It's simply intolerable.  Police should protect and serve communities, not impose violence on them. 

The common denominator for countries with lower rates of police violence: restricted access to firearms and heavy controls on how and when those firearms may be carried and used.

Police reflexes that are developed to account for suspects with guns increases the risk of death for even those suspects, without guns.  When your basic assumption is that a lightly armed suspect will be taken down with mace, batons, and riot shields, you're a lot less likely to kill people.  Conversely, when you must assume that literally any situation could turn deadly in an instant, a healthy respect for suspects' lives is less likely to enter your training materials.

There are many good ideas for reducing numbers of deadly police shootings, but the simplest approach would be to limit access to guns.  With a less heavily armed population, police can safely focus on resolving dangerous situations instead of fearing for their life in every confrontation they have with a civilian. 

Sadly, I fear this is politically impossible and the madness we've seen in the last few days will continue.  I'm so sad for my country.