Guns, Bombs and Due Process

Robot Bomb

The Due Process clause of the US Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. That principle has historically been interpreted to prohibit extrajudicial killing of suspects without a trial or some other legal proceeding.  In the case of the Dallas Police robot bomb the police  circumvented any judicial process and served as pre-trial executioners when they were unable to apprehend the shooter. I am certainly not defending the actions of the suspect and I understand that efforts were made to apprehend him before he was bombed.  I still take issue with the idea that bombing a suspect is an acceptable tactic, even as a last resort.

Using bombs on suspects not only violates due process but it also blurs the line between military and police tactics.  The recent public concern and push back over the use of the robot bomb is warranted and necessary to preserve our constitutional principles as well as the peace and civility of our streets.  While bombs have existed for decades, there are many reasons why police don’t use them on our civilians.  Nobody wants weapons of war on the street that will transform our cities into war zones with bomb blasts. We should all be concerned when our already militarized police force takes this major step towards further militarization. Whether or not the Dallas shooting suspect deserved to die, our civility and our constitutional principles do not deserve the same fate.

As Americans we claim to hold a moral authority among nations because of our constitutional values like due process, free speech, the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. When we agree to compromise any of those fundamental rights then everyone loses.  There are some who believe that a cop-killer does not deserve due process, I disagree. To honor our legal principles we have to insist that they apply in every situation. Compromising our principles even once is a collective compromise of our rights and once we open that door it becomes very difficult to close. Today the exception was made for a cop-killer, tomorrow it may be a gang member, and eventually we may end up with Apache helicopters engaged in urban tactical warfare firing on streets and homes where police feel that their safety is compromised and their justification will be to preserve police and civilian life at the expense of our founding documents and principles.

To be clear this was not the first time our due process clause was compromised by the state. Every time a young black man is shot and killed in the streets we violate some of the same constitutional principles, so much so that many Americans have become immune to the state violations. Many insist on ignoring the issue and defending the officers involved by reminding us how difficult and dangerous it is to be a policeman and that we have to protect our cops from dangerous criminals. I agree that it is a dangerous and difficult job but officers willingly embraced that career despite the dangers. They choose to put themselves in harms way to serve and protect the public, civilians don’t make that choice but they still often suffer the same dangerous consequences, especially if they’re black. Fear can not justify extrajudicial murder and lethal force can not be the initial response to a scary situation. I know that not everyone has the restraint and resolve to keep a gun holstered in tense situations. Those who lack the necessary restraint need to find other work and do not belong on the street with a badge and gun patrolling communities that they already fear and distrust.

It’s clear to me that the number of guns in America exacerbates the issue of police violence. Police are afraid that they can be shot anytime because guns are everywhere and as we saw in Dallas, isolated police misconduct by a few bad apples can make every cop a target in every city in America. That reality puts police on the defensive and they often decide to shoot first even before they are confronted with a suspected weapon. Following the shooting in Dallas, police scrambled to detain and question many innocent protesters who were armed and were therefore suspects. The Dallas police chief even made statements calling the open carry law into question indicating that it contributed to the confusion and hysteria of the situation. Our gun laws are absurd and archaic, despite what the NRA tells us. Perhaps after losing five sworn peace officers to an angry sniper we will reconsider our gun laws in order to protect our cops and civilians. The Dallas shooting, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, these are all examples of senseless gun violence and it is within our power to legislate necessary change.  The time to address this issue is now while public sentiment and political will are simultaneously focused on the loss of black lives and police lives. The tension between police and minority communities will not disappear anytime soon but we can help deescalate the situation by taking steps to remove the guns. We must strike while the iron is still hot to legislate change or we will watch the fire continue to burn and destroy lives and communities.



Tips for Dealing with Law Enforcement

Seattle police officers wearing riot gear guard a Starbucks coffee shop during May Day demonstrations in Seattle

1. The Right to be Free from Search

The Fourth Amendment guarantees our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This right applies to all persons whether walking, driving, riding a bike, sitting at home or even standing around in a public space. The 4th amendment was written to protect individuals from police and law enforcement agents. That means police can not search you, or arrest you without a warrant, or without evidence that you are involved in a crime. One way police often get around the warrant requirement is by asking if you will agree to a search of your vehicle, bag, home or other property. Know that you always have the right to refuse a search, and you should exercise that right with confidence, knowing that state and federal law support you in asserting that right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If an officer asks if he/she can search you, your car or your property, simply say “No, I do not consent to searches.” Repeat as needed because they can be very persistent.

2. The Right to be Free from Seizure

The Fourth Amendment also protects individuals from police who may try to arrest or detain you without legal justification. Police can be intimidating, but remember that the law is on your side and is there to protect you. When officers stop you on the street and want to question you, you can quickly terminate that police encounter by asking the question: “Officer are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” At that point, if the officer says you are not being detained, then just walk away, because that is your right, and the officer knows that. When police question you, that usually means they don’t already have enough evidence to detain you, and most likely they’re fishing for anything they can use against you or someone you know. Be smart, don’t stand there and provide info that can later be used against you or someone else in court. Quit while you’re ahead, and keep your mouth shut.

3. Your Right to Remain Silent, Shut Your Mouth and Stay Out of Trouble

Everyone who’s watched a cop show has heard the phrase: “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Despite hearing that phrase repeatedly, many people are all too eager to speak to police whenever they are asked to do so. If you are being questioned about possible criminal conduct, you’re best response is always: “I choose to remain silent, I’d like to speak with a lawyer.” You may have to repeat that sentence several times, because the police will most likely continue to ask you questions and try to get you to change your mind. Be firm, and remember that the law is on your side, and remind them that you will remain silent, and would like to speak to a lawyer. Cops are allowed to lie to you, so don’t be tricked by false threats or promises, don’t give up your right to remain silent, be firm, and shut your mouth. If cops are questioning you, that often means they don’t have enough evidence against you, shut your mouth and don’t give it to them.