Anything goes.

Cut and Dry?


I’m going to describe an account of an encounter between a police officer and a citizen. I’m going to analyze it step by step. I am not going to tell you any details about either person until I am finished describing the account.

A plainclothes officer was investigating a robbery case when he pulled over a citizen for driving erratically on the interstate.

After telling the citizen to stay in the car, the officer went over towards his car to radio for uniformed backup. The officer told the citizen to stay in the car.

The citizen got out of the car and aggressively confronted the cop. It is unclear whether “aggressively” means it was initially just an angry confrontation or if it looked immediately like it was going to be violent. The citizen was unarmed.

Either way at this point the citizen has disobeyed the officer’s order and is coming towards him so the officer has every reason to believe he could be a threat and has every right to defend himself and engage him if he feels it is necessary or appropriate.

According to PoliceHow.com, an officer’s duty belt usually holds handcuffs, a firearm, spare ammunition, a taser, mace or OC or pepper spray, a flashlight, a radio device, a baton, a knife or multifunctional tool, keys, basic first aid items, and disposable gloves.

So typically besides a firearm, a typical police belt contains four other self-defense items, three of which are non-lethal. In addition to these, an officer can also engage in hand-to-hand combat or use their body as a weapon.

I don’t know how many or which items this officer had on their belt, but he chose to pull out his gun in response to the citizen’s aggressive approach.

Against an unarmed citizen a gun is hardly appropriate if you happen to have a taser, an incapacitating spray, a baton, or your own physical abilities at your disposal. But again I do not necessarily know if the officer had these things. But if he did the gun was not the first thing he should have reached for.

However, the officer decided not to fire his weapon, showing restraint.

But the citizen made him pay for his restraint.

It is unclear whether the citizen was responding out of fear to having a gun pointed at them and acting in perceived self-defense because he feared for his life or if he just felt like beating up a cop, but the citizen took the pistol out of the officer’s hands and pistol-whipped and beat the officer over the head with it, knocking the officer unconscious and leaving the officer with multiple lacerations. The citizen then fled the scene.

The officer is an unnamed white male and the citizen is a 34 year old black male named Janard Cunningham.

The officer said that he did not shoot out of fear that shooting an unarmed black man would lead to him suffering the same fate as Darren Wilson.

There is outcry that had he killed the man there would be demonstrations, but that there are no demonstrations resulting from the man beating him unconscious. Many say he had every reason to shoot the man.

While I agree that the officer had every reason and right to defend himself, I do not believe that defense should have involved a gun if he had other options available. If he did not have any of the other utilities I listed and he felt that he could have taken the man in hand-to-hand combat I believe he should have done so, but perhaps the man was either bigger than him or the officer doubted his fighting skills, and if that was the case and he had none of the other tools at his disposal his only other option was to pull a gun. But if he were to shoot he should have shot to wound or disable or disarm, not to kill, because Cunningham was unarmed. Deadly force should always be a last resort.

However, I agree that even if he didn’t use lethal force and defended himself, there is a good chance that there would have been outcry and demonstrations for defending himself against an unarmed man, which I think would be unwarranted. This officer had every right to defend himself because Cunningham chose to engage him the moment he got out of his car and refused the officer’s order to stay in his car. We can’t expect our police officers not to defend themselves.

The point I am trying to make is this: we are reaching a point with this issue of incidents between police officers and unarmed black men where our emotions are getting in the way of our judgment and we are beginning to take sides. And that is the worst thing that we can do. We need to look at these things on a case by case basis, and not let our emotions get in the way of our judgment. Taking sides will only divide us further. The only hope for us solving this issue is if we stick together, not continue to divide ourselves. Things are not always so cut and dry and we need to give people some wiggle room when they are involved in situations like this and understand that oftentimes when people are forced to make split second decisions sometimes they make the right decisions and other times they make mistakes.

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