Or so seems to be the mentality of the officers who tasered Robert Dziekanski to death at YVR. It’s hard to watch the video (linked from this CBC story) and not be at least a little outraged at the officers who responded that night – unless you’re the police, that is. RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dale Carr urges those watching the video to “put what they’ve seen aside for the time being” and to “wait to hear the totality of the evidence at the time of the inquest.” Wait, what?
I can’t help but to imagine what we’d be hearing if the opposite were to have happened that night and Mr. Dziekanski had attacked one of the officers…. “This video clearly shows our officers coming under attack by a violent and dangerous man and we believe our officers were absolutely justified in their use of deadly force.”
Let’s assume the worst for a moment and suppose that, in the seconds leading up to the initial tasering and in the area occluded by the wall in the video, Mr. Dziekanski made a threatening gesture – perhaps reaching inside his jacket or pocket. Does that change your opinion of what happened? Could that (seemingly unlikely) event have even made a difference in whether or not the police were justified in their actions?
Prior to watching this video, I would typically be the last person to condemn police violence when it comes to dealing with criminals. If a person flagrantly breaks the law and expects to get treated with respect and the same rights as a law-abiding citizen when the law catches up with them they have something else coming to them, right? Right. Except it’s clearly not, because the line that separates a “criminal” from a guy in a foreign country, who doesn’t speak the language and who’s obviously in emotional and physical distress is pretty damn blurry.
Back to the tape: There didn’t appear to be any other people on the same side of the glass wall where Mr. Dziekanski and the officers were standing, so who were those officers protecting when they fired at the lone man? Themselves, I guess. Which makes it pretty hard to look at them as any thing other than cowards. Put a deadly weapon in my hand and send me out on the street with no clear set of consequences or guidelines to using it and I’d be pretty fearless too.
Police officers sign up to do a dangerous job and I respect them for that, but there exists an asymmetrical relationship between mitigating risk to themselves and keeping the public safe. In this case, the balance of that relationship slid much too far to the left and the officers involved selfishly put their safety before that of Mr. Dziekanski’s. Hey, do you want to keep the police really safe? Why not let them shoot the people they approach with tranquilizers to sedate them first – that will make them a lot easier to deal with.