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Dec 11

Lt. Furseth? We need to talk

On Friday, December 7th, In the wake of multiple grand jury bills of no indictment, public protests, and rioting, NYC Fire Wire published a piece written by Lt Daniel Furseth, DeForest, Wisconsin Police Department. The piece was entitled “Why I Stopped Caring

After reading the piece, I was unhappy with Lt. Furseth’s stance. From my perspective it showed a lack of understanding related to the public outcry. I commented on the piece. People read my comments, and I’ve had a steady stream of FB messages (both supportive, and not so supportive) in response to it. I decided that I wanted to elaborate on my position. I’m using my intro comment, and most of my follow up comments as the framework for this.

Before we get to that though, I would like to take a moment, and explain where I’m coming from. Killed By Police, is a group that covers the deaths of the general population at the hands of law enforcement agencies. Each one, backed up with a verified article from a news / media outlet that covered the press release of the death.

From January 1st through December 9th, 2014 Law Enforcement officers in the United States of America have killed 1,034 people. That’s 343 days. That is an average of 3.014 deaths by law enforcement in the United States of America, each and every day. In contrast, 108 Police Officers have lost their life while on the job over the same time frame. This includes auto accidents, heart attacks, and accidental shootings. Dig into those numbers, and you will see that most of those deaths were not at the hands of a violent criminal. For every 1 officer who passed away while doing their job, police have killed 10.

Now, I know people want to use the same old cliches. ‘HOW MANY OF THEM WERE INNOCENT!?” “THE COPS WERE DOING THEIR JOB!”, and my new favorite “DON’T BREAK THE LAW AND YOU DON’T GOT NOTHIN’ TO WORRY ABOUT!”.

How many of them were innocent?

If you want to get technical, they were all innocent. Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, yes? That’s called the presumption of innocence, which is built on the foundation of the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments to one of America’s favorite documents.

But lets move past the technicalities. At the heart of this idea lies a problem. That problem is the acceptance of Law Enforcement Officers acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Last time I checked, I wasn’t living in the pages of Judge Dredd. They are not a judge. They are not a jury of your peers. They are not the executioner. They are human, just like you. A suspect’s guilt has absolutely no bearing on their right to life and due process.

But in case you do want to continue with this line of reasoning, I have a series of simple questions for you.

In the case of Michael Brown, what crime was he guilty of that carried a death sentence? Shoplifting? Resisting Arrest? Assaulting a Police Officer? Jaywalking?

In the case of Eric Garner, I would ask the same question. Does resisting arrest or selling untaxed cigarettes carry with it a death penalty?

In the case of Tamir Rice. Again, same question. Even if the police did in fact see the gun (the video they released proves they didn’t), does brandishing a firearm in public carry a death sentence?

Should I continue? Does being suicidal, and calling for help carry a death sentence? Does Grand Theft Auto carry a death sentence?

Of course, none of these crimes carry a death penalty consideration during the sentencing phase. While they could have been guilty of a crime, at no point can you point to a capital offense. And honestly, if you can show me the crime these people committed that warrants the death penalty, please find the statute of law where we are allowed to put them to death without the need for a trial, or even an admission of guilt.

The cops were just doing their jobs!
I hold the police to no higher (and no lesser) of a standard than I hold my fellow man. If something happens in the course of your job that is illegal, you are going to face an investigation, it will be put to a grand jury, and then you go to trial.

If you shoot a man, and the facts are, sketchy, I would expect that a Grand Jury will indict you. I expect that you will be given the same due process that every other man and woman in the nation is given.

If you choke a man to death, and it is recorded, I would expect that a Grand Jury will indict you. I expect that you will be given the same due process that every other man and woman in the nation is given.

If you drive your cruiser into a park, and shoot a 12 year old, I would expect that a Grand Jury will indict you. I expect that you will be given the same due process that every other man and woman in the nation is given.

If you lie, in an attempt to distort the facts of the case, I would expect that a Grand Jury will indict you. I expect that you will be given the same due process that every other man and woman in the nation is given.

If you shoot and kill a man who called for help because he was suicidal, I would expect that a Grand Jury will indict you. I expect that you will be given the same due process that every other man and woman in the nation is given.

If you, and 2 other officers simultaneously tase a suicidal student, I would expect that a Grand Jury will indict you. I expect that you will be given the same due process that every other man and woman in the nation is given.

If I am forced to prove my “fear of bodily harm” in a court of law, then I would expect that you should have to do so as well. Fair is fair. We are constantly told that Law Enforcement Officers are not above the law. We have heard it from many people, many times. But time and time again, we see that police are treated as if they are.

Just so we are clear: You (the defendant) are required to prove “Fear of Bodily Harm” in a court of law. It is not a reason for a non indictment by a grand jury. This was explained in explicit detail to myself, and my fellow Grand Jurors as we deliberated a case where a crime was committed at the fear/threat of bodily harm during my grand jury time (November – December, 2014).

Fear of bodily harm is a defense strategy to be used in a court of law to exonerate yourself of a charge. The Grand Jury’s sole job, is to determine if there is probably cause to move forward with charges. The job is not to determine guilt. The job is not to determine if there was a reasonable expectation of something. It is the single lowest burden of proof in the justice system. Probable Cause.

If you are a law enforcement officer, and you shoot a man, choke a man, kill a child, shoot a suicidal person, tase a suicidal young man while 2 other officers simultaneously tase him, I would expect that you are held to the same legal precedent, and given the same due process that I, the citizen that you took an oath to serve and protect, would be held to.

And when you aren’t charged with a crime. When you aren’t held to the same standard as the rest of the population, people are going to be mad. People are going to be angry. People are going to protest. Things may get a little crazy. People will feel that you are above the law.

Don’t break the law, and you have nothing to worry about!
Actually, yes you do. If you didn’t these stories wouldn’t keep happening. And those were just the first page of google news results, with over 800,000 more stories listed as results.

I’m trying to not play the race card either. But, it’s a sad world we live in, when this video is very relevant. If you are a minority in this country, you are more likely to be incarcerated for a crime compared to a Caucasian who commits the same crime.  You are more likely to be shot by a police officer.

Don’t break the law, and you have nothing to worry about? That is a fairy tale world populated by rainbows, unicorns, and confetti cannons.

Lt. Furseth. I’m speaking to you.

You are not special because you wear a badge. You’re life is no more precious than mine, my children’s, my father’s, my wife’s, or the life of a man, woman, or child I have not met. Someone is special, great, or worthy of praise, because of their actions, and the content of their character. Not simply because they chose a specific profession.

You aren’t special because you are a cop. Just because you put on a uniform, badge, and sidearm, does not make you special. If that is the sole criteria by which we decide that someone is special, then this guy is just as special as you, and every other cop.

Not every police officer is terrible. There are some absolutely amazing people who wear the uniform. I count some of them among my friends. Unfortunately, their reputation will be marred by those who do harm while in uniform. Unfortunately, as we have learned throughout history, a group is judged by the actions of a few. In this case, many men and women are being lumped together with the bad ones. Is it fair? Absolutely not. But that is life. “Rome IS the mob”. Those words from a movie (Gladiator) ring true. It’s held true for years. Appease the mob, and you’ve appeased the populace. Incite and enrage the mob, and you’ve enraged the populace.

Right now, the grand jury’s non indictments, the riot gear, the tear gas, and staggering body count, have enraged the mob. There is no turning back. There is no way to walk away from this ledge without legitimate change.

We should all be held accountable for our actions. It should not be possible to get away with it because of wearing a badge. And if we truly want the world to believe that, we need to let due process and the judicial system handle things. Let the cops sweat it out a few times in the courtroom.

Maybe they will be convicted. I doubt they will. At least, not at an alarming rate. But, it will re-instill faith in the public that their police, and the justice system are working for them, not against them.

Maybe it will serve as a reminder to officers that the motto is “To Serve and Protect”

Mr. Furseth, you may have stopped caring today, but I have not. I have never stopped thinking that this country can be better than we are. I believe that the true definition of “American Exceptionalism” lies in our ability to learn from, and correct our mistakes. To be progressive. To be an example of “making it better”. And I believe it’s about time that we got back to being exceptional.

2 comments

  1. Linda McGregor

    Where are your statistics from, please?

  2. Chad

    As linked in the piece, killed by police, a non profit group that compiles news reports related to deaths involving police officers on their site, and from the officer down memorial page, which does the same thing, in regards to deaths of LEO on the job. I prefer the killed by police statistics over other groups, because if you follow the link I provided in the piece, they have a link to a media story about each death.

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