Unpacking Derek Chauvin and Recent Police Shootings

Police do not have special legal standing under the law when it comes to the commission of crimes. They have the authority to temporarily suspend your Constitutional rights based on the belief that the community's good will be served by depriving certain people of their rights. When it comes to police murders, police have no more legal authority to end a life than your average Joe.

With Chauvin, the average Joe standard renders an obvious outcome. Would an average Joe kneeling on a man’s neck for over nine minutes be charged with murder? Almost certainly. But now, two other police shootings are dominating the headlines. The shootings of Ma’Khia Bryant and Adam Toledo. These situations are quite different and the culpability of the individual police officers, if not their department’s policy, are much more difficult to establish.

Adam Toledo: What happened?

Toledo, 13, and an older boy, 17, were running around with weapons firing into cars. Police are called to the scene and Toledo is the one with the weapon, probably because the older boy told Toledo he was less likely to face criminal charges than he. Toledo ends up with the gun and eventually, a police officer catches up with him. He demands Toledo drop the gun. Toledo complies, throwing it behind a fence. Toledo then turns around while raising his arms and is shot dead by the officer. Police say it was a split-second decision and the officer believed his life was in danger. However, many wonder if engaging an armed suspect in a firefight in a residential neighborhood was the best way to contain the situation.

Mah’kia Bryant: What happened?

Police were called to the scene when adult women began harassing a 16-year-old black girl. The girl’s parents call 911, and police arrived to see the women around Bryant while Bryant was holding a knife. At some point, it looks like Bryant, who is holding the knife, brings the knife up. The officer shoots, killing Bryant.

Individual culpability of individual officers

With Chauvin, it was plain to see that the Average Joe standard has merit. No one, not a police officer or anyone else, would be allowed to kneel on a person’s neck for that long and get away with it. By then Floyd was restrained, so the added violence was deemed felony battery and because Floyd died, that made it felony murder.

However, from the perspective of police, the Average Joe standard is much more difficult to apply in these other cases than Chauvin’s. The police officer who shot the 13-year-old boy could have very easily felt in danger for his life, while the officer who shot the 13-year-old girl probably thought he was saving another woman’s life. The average Joe could not be convicted of murder in either case.

But police officers are not Average Joes. One would assume that running through residential neighborhoods with weapons drawn is not a public service. One would further assume that police called to the scene of domestic disturbances wouldn’t then show up and shoot the victim. It’s not clear that police understand the situations they’ve been called into. It’s not clear that their tactics are making anyone safer. And if it’s not the police officers’ fault individually, then it surely falls on the department to devise a better way to handle these situations.

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