The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri reopened the debate on the use of force by the police. A contributor to The Miami Hurricane gave his own opinion on the matter and questioned the state of civilian-police relations in a way that was not entirely definitive.
The columnist noted that CS gas, commonly known as “tear gas,” was outlawed for use as a weapon in war. However, the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention specifically allows for the use of such agents as a means of riot control. What does this mean? It means the use of tear gas by police departments is not of questionable legality, as the author insinuates, but is well-understood as necessary by the international community.
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As for the use of military equipment by police, the aforementioned article claims that “police cannot develop the necessary experience to handle [military-grade equipment],” which results in police “using [said equipment] carelessly.” Without proof, this is pure speculation on the part of the author.
Per the standards of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which certifies police agencies in this state, officers are required to take a qualification test at least once a year for all weapons they intend to use, whether they be handguns, shotguns or AR-15 style rifles. Simply put, no officer will handle a weapon for which he or she has not received training.
If you wonder why the police carry such weapons, look no further than the riots that broke out in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict was delivered or the looting that took place in Miami in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Violence of such magnitudes could happen anywhere, and I’m sure we’d all prefer the police have weapons bigger than the criminals’.
Why weren’t the police “focusing on individuals trying to incite riots, or looters,” the writer questions. Tell me; if you were in that chaos, would you be able to easily separate the looters and rioters from non-violent protestors? When the police receive notice of an urgent emergency (known as either a Code-2 or Code-3 call) requiring an immediate response, minutes mean the difference between life and death. The first priority is always to maintain order and prevent the situation from worsening.
Once again, this is easier said than done. Hindsight is 20-20, after all. We can second guess the actions taken in Ferguson until the end of time, but none of us were there being forced to make split second decisions.
We must always hold our public servants accountable, but it is equally important to scrutinize the job honestly. We must respect the immense pressure of making split-second decisions that mean life or death. If we lose all faith in our police, what does that say about us as a society?
Will Schaub is a senior majoring in political science and English. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.