So When Should Police Kill?


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Force, according Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman, is only rarely used by local law officers.

As far as it goes, that’s good. But I can’t help but wish that we could explore more why there is so much distrust of the police now, and not act surprised that a career in law enforcement does not seem to appeal to members of minority groups.

The Criminal Justice program and club at Mount Mercy hosted a panel discussion Oct. 7 on police use of force. Jerman, Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner and Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden answered questions posed by host Beth Malicki, a local TV anchor, and written on cards by the audience.

The best question was the one asked last, from the audience, about whether local police forces look like the community that they protect. That’s not entirely the main point, of course. I’d gladly live in a town with a totally Pakistani police force, if they’re good at their job and respect citizens.

My own interactions with local police have been mostly positive. There was one time, when I witness a theft at MMU and the officer who responded seemed a little snarky, and a time when I called to report a bunch of broken car windows in my neighborhood and the person I spoke with acted put out that I would waste her time with something that didn’t bleed, but those are offset by other times—such as when police investigated a driver who tried to run me off the road.

So, to me, local police are fine. But, I’m not in a minority group. Let’s put it this way: If the United States were a majority black nation, and several unarmed white men had recently been shot, and I had interactions with primarily black officers who seemed fearful of me due to my pale skins—well, I don’t know how I would react. Not well, I fear.

The panel discussion was worth seeing, and I’m glad the CJ program sponsored it. But it felt like we didn’t get to the “good” stuff–that we really got to the hard issue.

I’m glad there is a follow up discussion. I’ll be staying tuned for part 2.

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