In Ferguson, Missouri, the Brown family has lost a son, and I can imagine no worse pain than that.
Police officer Darren Wilson allegedly shot twelve times at Michael Brown, and about six of those bullets hit. Brown was unarmed. To someone used to policing in Australia, on the face of it this seems like a gross over-reaction.
While searching statistics on shooting deaths by police, I came across Jim Fisher, who in 2011 tracked 1,146 shootings by police officers in the US, 607 of them fatal shootings. Fisher commented that ‘a reasonable person’ would think most of the shootings unnecessary.
Indeed, but who is ‘reasonable’ when involved in a confrontation with strangers who are likely to have a firearm within reach? Police in the US are under constant deadly threat because so many people are armed. The FBI says that in 2012, 48 police officers were killed in the line of duty – 44 shot dead. A simple traffic stop can lead to a shooting. To be safe in these circumstances you must assume the worst, and do your job on constant alert.
Members of the public assault police officers in many ways, and even fists can cause life-threatening injuries. While police officers can keep a safe distance from knives and fists, they cannot put enough distance between themselves and a gun while on duty.
I am so sorry for the loss of Michael Brown, and for the pain of his family and community. This shooting, like so many, was unreasonable. However, I must confess that, if I were a police officer in what I saw as a life-threatening situation, I would find being reasonable very difficult.