Silly Mundane -- "Civil Rights" are for Killer Cops

by William Norman Grigg
Jun. 02, 2014

The United States Constitution, as Seattle police officers pretend to understand it, extends to police an unqualified right to the discretionary use of aggressive force, and prohibits “second-guessing” by those who are not members of the State's coercive caste.

Inhibiting the exercise of that entitlement, the officers claim in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Justice Department and the City of Seattle, would be a “violation of the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.”

In 2012, after a Justice Department investigation concluded that Seattle police officers routinely use unnecessary force, the City of Seattle implemented a new use-of-force policy and agreed to the creation of an independent police monitor. The current lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of more than 100 Seattle cops, complains that those trivial and inadequate restrictions created “vaguely defined, newly protected classes of suspects” and violate the officers' supposed “right not to be required to take unnecessary risks.”

An “unnecessary” risk, on this construction, would occur any time a police officer is required to use “significantly less force than is being threatened against them by suspects … [who] appear to be or are engaged in threatening and dangerous conduct.” (Emphasis added.) Police are trained to believe that they put their lives at risk in every encounter with a citizen, and to regard any gesture of non-compliance as an immediate and impermissible risk to that most sacred of all considerations, “officer safety.”

At present, in most of the country a police officer who brutalizes or kills somebody without moral justification can take refuge in the “totality of circumstances” test. In practice, this is nothing less than an unalloyed entitlement to kill first, and devise a suitable rationale after the fact.

Seattle's new use-of-force guidelines, the police lawsuit objects, require officers – who, as a class, are selected on the basis of limited intellectual agility – “to engage in mental gymnastics wholly unreasonable in the light of the dangerous and evolving circumstances we face every day. This creates unnecessary and, therefore, unconstitutional risks to Plaintiffs' safety.”

Just as unconscionable, from the cops' perspective, is the fact that their violent actions would be subject to what they call “the very second-guessing prohibited by the Constitution” – that is, their actions would be scrutinized by people who are not part of their privileged class. This distant possibility of accountability “places unconstitutional risks and burdens on the Plaintiffs' lives and livelihood,” pouts the civil complaint.

Those unacceptable risks can be avoided, of course, if police officers unwilling to deal with the modest dangers associated with that vocation would pursue other employment. The vexatious and complicated conditions imposed by official “use-of-force” guidelines would be unnecessary if police officers were subject to the same non-aggression standard that applies to everybody else. But extracting aggressive violence from law enforcement would be as futile as attempting to dehydrate water.

The use-of-force approach preferred by the Seattle police plaintiffs was displayed in the August 30, 2010 murder of John T. Williams on a street corner by Officer Ian Birk.

Williams, a partially deaf, 50-year-old alcoholic woodcarver who suffered from psychological problems, was shot four times by Birk within a few seconds of the encounter.

Birk claimed that he had been "threatened" by Williams, who was carrying two small, closed knives at the time of the incident. The autopsy, however, documented that Williams wasn't facing Birk when he was shot: The officer approached him from behind and to the right, and Williams was shot in the right side of his body from an estimated distance of about ten feet. In addition to being partially deaf, Williams was wearing headphones at the time he was killed.

The victim’s non-cooperation, which was interpreted by Birk as hostility, most likely meant that he never heard the demand to drop his carving knife. Since the knives were legal under Seattle’s municipal code, Birk’s demand was not a “lawful order” in any sense.

In his testimony, Birk mentioned that he and other police are taught the "21-foot rule," which dictates that a knife-wielding subject should be considered a lethal threat within the prescribed distance. Williams was carrying two small knives, but he wasn’t “wielding” them. Rather than moving aggressively toward Birk, Williams was walking away from the officer: Birk said under oath that "I motioned for him to come over and talk to me. He walked away.”

During the January 2011 inquest into the shooting, Birk stated that he gunned down John T. Williams on a Seattle street corner because he didn't like the way the 50-year-old chronic alcoholic looked at him.

"He had a very stern, very serious, very confrontational look on his face," Birk testified during the inquest. “His brow was furrowed.... His jaws were set.”

Birk’s description of Williams as displaying a countenance like that of the legendary Celtic warrior Cu Chulain (whose “eyes were dark, his expression sullen”) wasn’t confirmed by any of the several non-police eyewitnesses.

Although Birk and his defenders invoked the “reasonable officer” standard to justify the killing, no reasonable person would have considered Williams a threat to Birk. We know this because there were several reasonable people who witnessed the incident, none of whom perceived the pathetic man to pose a risk to anybody. This is because none of them had ben indoctrinated to perceive even a momentary lack of cooperation by a Mundane as a "pre-attack indicator," or marinated in the conceit that officer safety always and everywhere trumps every other moral or practical consideration.

“Why did you shoot him? He wasn’t doing anything!” exclaimed one woman after Birk killed Williams.

It took just seconds for Birk to escalate an incidental encounter to the point of homicide. His reflexive reaction was to kill someone who was demonstrably harmless – and the programmed response of the first fellow officer on the scene was to commend Birk for doing so. Officer William Collins, who arrived in response to Birk’s “shots fired” report, told him, seconds after the killing, that he had done a "good job." All that Collins knew at the time was that a fellow member of the punitive caste had just killed a Mundane -- and that's all he needed to know. No “second-guessing” would be necessary, or allowed.

During the January shooting inquest, Seattle police brutality lawyer Tim Ford asked Collins if a closed knife constitutes a threat to "officer safety." A closed knife is "a major threat," Collins insisted, "just as big as an open knife.... It's extremely dangerous, and you have to treat the person with utmost caution.... [I]f you don't drop it, you may be shot" -- even if it is closed at the time, the officer maintained.

“We don't get paid enough to be hurt,” simpered Collins on the witness stand.

Detective Jeff Mudd, who also testified at the inquest, also applauded Birk's decision: "We're trained to shoot people who pose a threat to us."

The alleged “threat” posed by Williams consisted of a dirty look the decrepit old alcoholic had supposedly given a young, healthy, but lethally craven police officer.

Birk resigned after the Seattle PD’s firearms review board ruled that the killing of Williams was “unjustified and out of policy.” Police Chief John Diaz referred to Birk’s actions as unjustified and “egregious.” Therefore it was an act of criminal homicide, correct? Not according to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who declined to file charges. Significantly, the Obama-Holder Justice Department, which devised the new use-of-force standard that is supposedly suffocating the bold and valiant officers of the Seattle Police Department, also refused to file civil rights charges against Birk.

Seattle-area tax victims were forced to pay a $1.5 million settlement to the family of John T. Williams. The only “punishment” Birk received for the unlawful killing was his compelled resignation from the police force. According to the plaintiffs in the Seattle police lawsuit – who, remarkably, are not being supported by the local police union – this was an atrocious violation of Birk’s civil rights.

Most people believe that the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect citizens against abuses of their rights by government officials. The incurably self-preoccupied people behind the Seattle police lawsuit apparently believe that the Bill of Rights exists to emancipate law enforcement officers from restrictions on the use of lethal force, and immunize them against legal, civil, and professional accountability when they kill people without legal justification.

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