Police killed Alton Sterling. Should we change our standards for use of force? | The Tylt
Two police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling Tuesday night in Baton Rouge. A video showing the killing has circulated widely on social media. Less than 24 hours later, a Minnesota police officer shot and killed Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop.
The cellphone video shot by a bystander, which was released later in the day, shows an officer pushing Mr. Sterling onto the hood of the car and then tackling him to the ground. He is then held to the pavement by two officers, and one officer appears to hold a gun above Mr. Sterling’s chest. (The linked video is graphic.)
At one point someone on the video can be heard saying, "He’s got a gun! Gun!" and one officer can be seen pulling his weapon. After some shouting, what sound like gunshots can be heard and the camera shifts away, and then there are more apparent gunshots.
Should we change the standard for use of force?
The way we define use of force today makes it difficult to prosecute police officers for shootings. Police officers have a difficult job during which they often have to make split second decisions. The standard for use of force is defined by two Supreme Court cases: Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor. These two cases create a framework where police shootings are basically judged on the the basis of whether or not there was an "objectively reasonable" cause to think there was a threat to themselves or others. If there is, then the shooting is legal and the officer is cleared.
Supporters say police officers put their lives on the line to uphold the law and to protect others. Because of this, officers should be given the leeway they need to carry out their duties safely, including the use of deadly force when they think it is needed. Those in support of the standard believe that the nature of police work requires split second decisions and we must stand by the choices officers make in the line of duty. If we make it any harder on them, we put the officers' lives and our lives on the line.
Critics say that logic ignores the fact that at least 558 people have been killed by the police this year. It is not just bad luck that black men are dying at the hands of police. There are systems in place that are allowing police to kill people without having to answer for it. The police should not be judge jury and executioner. If we change the standard for use of force, it will allow us to more effectively prosecute individual officers who kill citizens.
Should we change the standards for lethal use of force?
Police killed Alton Sterling. Should we change our standards for use of force?