Here is a good roundup of some of 2014’s police shootings of unarmed black men, from Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, in his attempts to wrestle with the question of why cops are so quick to resort to lethal force these days.
Particularly heartbreaking was the shooting of Levar Jones by white S.C. state trooper Sean Groubert, captured on dashboard cam. On the video, after Groubert emptied his clip towards Jones with zero warning (in an active gas station with multiple fuel pumps, no less), the victim plaintively asks the perp, “Sir, why was I shot?”
The itchy trigger fingers of some cops dealing with men of other races is, I think we can agree, well-documented at this point. They go 0-to-60 in an instant, whether it involves emptying their clip or putting a non-threatening asthmatic into a chokehold. Why? (Again, just some cops: The majority are not like this, but that violent minority has become significant enough to dominate the news cycle 24/7 these days.)
I don’t see anyone writing about this, but I have a theory on where this behavior at least partially originates. I think these itchy trigger fingers originate from Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the biggest recruiting pipelines into law enforcement remains the military. Always has, always will, probably. After a soldier or Marine gets his discharge papers, one of the most logical fits for his skills back in civilian life is the pseudo-military environment of the police department. But for over a decade, our military has largely been focused on occupation and policing of Middle Eastern states composed of non-white people, many of whom are violent, crazed Islamic fundamentalists ready to shoot on sight. Ex-servicemen, returning from tours abroad to join the local police force, retain memories of themselves or their comrades in situations that went from peaceful to violent in less than a second. Most of them know someone killed or wounded. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are trained to be ready to rock and roll in an instant when things seem like they are even starting to go sideways with the local population.
It might not be a lesson they forget when they are on the streets of South Carolina, Staten Island or suburban St. Louis instead of Baghdad, again dealing with people of a different race than themselves.
Like I said, I haven’t seen any studies about the relation of our endless Middle Eastern wars with what we are seeing with today’s police brutality. But you can’t tell me that the various wars of Bush and Obama have had zero effect on its veterans who now populate your local police department.