Kid Dealing Pot Didn’t Deserve to Be Shot

A university student is in possession of marijuana and sells some to an undercover officer. The police raid his room and, as he’s lawfully reacting to the break-in, an officer shoots him in the chest.

There’s no question that there was a crime here to investigate and bring charges for. But that doesn’t make the situation any less disturbing. The officer in the case was called to account only for having his trigger finger in the wrong place and will probably face no more than a reprimand. Indeed, his supporters are apparently rallying against even that. But the chain of irresponsible decisions on the part of the police goes much deeper than a misplaced finger.

Even if you think that people that sell pot should face death, it just as easily could have been someone other than Copp who happened to be in that apartment when the officers busted in (indeed, officers break into completely wrong addresses and shoot unarmed people all the time), someone else completely innocent that got shot, maybe even killed. It was the officers in question that chose to use that level of highly chaotic force to deal with what by all accounts was wholly non-violent case of possession and sale. And they are thus at least partly responsible for what has become a highly predictable outcome: citizens (and sometimes even officers) maimed or even killed in the course of those tactics. I say predictable because this sort of needless death and violence has become a very common occurrence with police raids all across the U.S. and Canada, and there is rarely any justification in retrospect as to why the paramilitary tactics were actually justified or necessary to enforce the law.

Moral responsibility is not a binary question, or even zero sum. Just because one person has done something wrong does not blanket justify everything that anyone else does in trying to deal with the consequences.


~ by Drew on 2009/04/21.

4 Responses to “Kid Dealing Pot Didn’t Deserve to Be Shot”

  1. The police performed the raid on the potheads premises fairly close to according to long-standing procedure. Sadly one officer had less than acceptable control over his weapon and this resulted in an accidental shooting.

    The law is responding appropriately so far – though I hope the officer in question is relegated to desk duty until he completes some extensive refresher training on proper gun handling procedures.

    You see, despite your allusions to the contrary, there’s no evidence that the police wanted to shoot the pothead. It was just a sad accident.

  2. How many times does the exact same “sad accident” have to happen before people realize that the procedures themselves are what are predictably creating these sorts of situations and tragedies, over and over?

    When a horde of people in paramilitary gear burst into unknown rooms with guns drawn, not having your finger in the right place is the least of what can go wrong. The entire situation is inherently chaotic and hair-trigger, and one moment of misperception or confusion can lead to death. That’s precisely why these tactics need to be used sparingly, with sensible justification, not as carelessly and routinely as they are. They carry an inherent extra risk of exactly what occurred in this case. There’s absolutely no reason at all here why officers couldn’t simply have walked up to Copp and arrested him as he walked out his front door, or knocked on his door and served him a warrant.

    In fact, this is precisely what police officers do in the case of people that commit far worse crimes than dealing pot. Heck, homicide suspects are rarely arrested in this manner.

  3. You see, THAT is an entirely different and far more fundamental issue; are the police too quick to use the rapid assault raid techniques.

    Also, there’s the question of whether the procedures involved in deciding to do so are to binary. Some jurisdictions – I have no clue if Grand Haven is one – have strict procedures that say all drug busts are conducted in a similar fashion, and that fashion is one that maximizes the chance of apprehension while minimizing the risks to the officers involved in the case of armed resistance.

  4. The problem is that it can often puts officers at more risk too, even if the people being raided (and their pets) weren’t an issue.

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