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Ferguson, Idiot Cops, and Experts Who Know Nothing At All

The events that transpired (and continue) in Ferguson, MO gripped the nation, though they’ve more recently been eclipsed by the murder of two NYPD officers apparently killed in response to the in-custody death of Eric Garner in that city. Protests have been conjured across the continent and it has dominated the cable news cycle for weeks. The following is an excerpt of a piece by Chris Hernandez. It’s lengthy but a slogan or quip simply won’t cover the dynamics of the situation. Hernandez is a former Marine, author, and current Soldier and LEO with decades of experience under his belt. Regardless of what camp you’re in, we think you’ll get something out of this. 

Without further ado:

Remember a couple years back, when that plane crashed in that city and killed all those people? And all the news networks talked about it for months? And every guest interviewed on the news said, “I don’t know anything about flying, but let me tell you what that pilot should have done”?

Or maybe you remember that incident not long ago, where doctors tried and failed to save a patient with a rare and deadly disease. After the patient died, “experts” with no medical training, knowledge or experience talked nonstop about what the doctors did wrong. “Those doctors must have no idea what they’re doing. All they had to do was make the patient not die. How hard is that?”

What? You don’t remember those incidents? That’s odd. Maybe you’ll remember this one.

There was this cop once, in some small town somewhere. He stopped a guy for something minor and let him go, then realized the guy was a suspect in a bigger crime and stopped him again. The guy attacked the cop. They fought, and eventually the cop shot and killed the guy.

And for months, people with literally zero training, knowledge or experience with lethal force encounters blathered on about what that cop should have done. They spoke on national media outlets. They wrote articles for newspapers and blogs. They spoke at public events. And they constantly said ridiculous, stupid things like “The officer should have shot Brown in the leg.”

Or “All the officer had to do was use a Taser, baton or pepper spray.”

Or “There’s never a reason to shoot an unarmed person.”

Or “That officer fired six times and there’s no way that can ever be justified.”

Or “That poor young man was executed for stealing cigars.”

Or “The officer must have been lying. An unarmed person would never attack an armed cop.”

Or “The cop should have been put on trial for murder so everyone could see whether he was guilty or not.”

Sound familiar? Could be you’ve heard a little something about this case. I have, and I’m sick of the constant storm of ignorant bullshit being spewed about it.

I don’t mean that I’ve simply heard reasonable criticism of police practices, or honest questions about use of force. The public has every right to question how we police them. But I’ve heard comments so moronic I wonder if the person making them remembers how to breathe without instructions. Since Officer Darren Wilson was no-billed by a Grand Jury, the nonsense has only gotten worse. I don’t want people to stop asking questions, and I’m happy to give answers. But for god’s sake, at least try to find out what the hell you’re talking about before you broadcast your opinion to the entire world.

What’s most frustrating is that dumb comments often come from otherwise intelligent, reasonable people who don’t second-guess pilots, doctors or professionals in other fields. These commenters generally stay in their lane and don’t hold forth about things they know nothing about. But when it comes to law enforcement, they feel completely justified prattling for hours on a subject about which they’re completely blind.

Why the difference? As far as I can tell, it’s because the public respects pilots, doctors and almost all other professionals. But cops? We’re different. Any idiot can be a cop. No intelligence required.

Maybe that belief is due to a lifetime-plus of cultural conditioning. Since before I was born, cops have been portrayed in popular culture as fools. Yes, we’ve also had positive cops on TV and in the movies; even so, not many people know Crockett and Tubbs or Barney Miller, while almost everyone knows Officer Barbrady and Barney Fife. The apparent result of this cultural conditioning is a widespread belief that police work is simple. Much of the public doesn’t know our job is complex, dynamic, challenging and sometimes dangerous; rather, they think it’s dull, plain, and frankly beneath anyone with even average intelligence.

Who knows, maybe police work really is that simple and easy. My experience may be a total fluke. Police work has put me in some of the most mentally and physically demanding situations of my life. I’ve had to fight for survival. I’ve had to talk people out of suicide. I’ve had to anticipate the next moves of desperate fleeing criminals. I’ve had to decipher the terrified, stuttering words of crime victims in a race against the clock to get descriptions out before suspects could get too far from the scene. I’ve had to ignore the horrible suffering of innocent people in order to focus on my task of ensuring the guilty didn’t escape justice. I’ve exercised every ounce of discipline I had and held my fire when a drunk pointed a pistol at me, because I wasn’t sure who was behind him.

None of that was easy. Many of those situations were incredibly complicated. I had to make multiple snap judgments based on training, hard-earned experience, and highly nuanced understanding of human nature and my own biases and weaknesses. I’ve worked with a lot of smart men and women who faced situations just as difficult, and sometimes far more difficult, than those I faced.

I want the public to understand the difficulties, challenges and realities of police work. So I’m going to briefly address some of the ridiculous, moronic misunderstandings that I’ve seen and read. None of what I’m about to write even hints that cops are always right, or that private citizens should never question them; we cops are beholden to the public we serve, and we should answer honest questions from good people (I myself have a LOT of questions and concerns about the Eric Garner case in NYC). I hope my answers help those who truly want to understand why Officer Wilson opened fire that day. But I also hope it encourages rabble-rousing, clueless idiots frantically running their mouths about how police “should” handle lethal force encounters to shut up and swim back to the shallow end of the pool.

“The officer could have just shot Michael Brown in the leg or arm.”

No, he probably couldn’t have. A leg or arm is a small, easy to miss target. Darren Wilson was firing center mass at a large target, and still completely missed with several shots. Even if he had hit Brown’s arm or leg, that wouldn’t have guaranteed Brown would stop, or live. Limb shots rarely immediately disable people. Plus, they can damage an artery and cause death within minutes.

[There is a graphic video showing the result of an arterial shot in the original article here.]

I’ve asked people before, “Name one professional firearms instructor who teaches limb shots.”

So far, nobody has been able to. People who know firearms, the dynamics of lethal force encounters, and the capabilities and limitations of human beings know how difficult it is to shoot a limb under realistic conditions; in a life-or-death encounter, when both you and your opponent are moving, scared and suffering from the physiological effects of stress, you’re not going to be able to hit a limb from any distance. That’s why police are trained to shoot center mass of the largest available target (and under stress we still often miss).

Maybe leg shooting could be done in a very specific situation, like if you and backup officers are facing a cornered suspect armed with a knife. But in a situation where you’re being charged by a large, aggressive suspect who’s already assaulted you? Sure, try a leg shot. I’ll wait until after your funeral to criticize you for it.

And besides, Wilson did (inadvertently) shoot Brown several times in a limb. We all know how that worked. Multiple rounds to his arm didn’t stop him.

There’s a heck of a lot more where that came from; the piece can be read in its entirety here. Trust us what when we tell you there’s a lot to be digested in the meat of this article. It’s worth checking out, and will no doubt continue to stir up a lot of debate.

Cover image shows a demonstrator throwing back a tear gas container after tactical officers trying to break up a group of bystanders during riots in St. Louis County, Missouri. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.


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