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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wedding Day

And Also: One of the many plays that led to the Giants' ridiculous loss last Sunday was a result of a rookie player being too conscious of a possible roughing the passer penalty (a questionable call [I hate game deciding bad calls] on 4th Down helping the other team earlier). He started to tackle with his head down, and since it was a clear passing situation, he thought the QB had already threw the ball. A bad rookie mistake, but more forgivable than some of those made by others, including the head coach. Not rookies, either. BTW, there was a sprinkling of snow in the field during yesterday's Packers/Seattle game. It was in the 60s here. Ah, typical late November weather.

Over thirty years ago, someone was going on a city bus, and slipped on ice. This led to a broken ankle that was badly set and never properly healed. The injury still lingers, affecting how the person walks, and might get worse as age sets in. Thousands, probably millions, dealt with a similar situation, going the city bus with ice nearby. A few might have fallen, but very few broke their leg in the process. And, the amount of people who actually had chronic lingering effects must be particularly tiny. But, for the person involved, such things are not too important. And, surely, various of the things involved -- badly salted streets, bus not being close enough to the curb, physician error, and so forth -- in many other cases had lesser harmful results, some fairly worthy of concern. Problems that just invite a few more troubling results.

Let's move to a more tragic situation. A trio of friends leaves a club on the day, one about to get married, having a young child as well. The club is under surveillance by undercover police officers, illegal activity to which armed individuals might be drawn. Early reports suggest that someone screams out that "he has a gat [gun]." The friends think the unmarked van is dangerous, so the car runs into it as they attempt to flee the scene. The police inside apparently are reassured that the trio are armed and dangerous and let go fifty shots (in violation of force regulations), killing the groom to be. It is unclear if the police announced themselves before shooting, at least one witness denying they did. At any rate, the trio were not armed, and that rarity -- an innocent civilian killed by police fire -- occurred. In fact, the very use of one's firearm is rather rare for New York City police officers.*

But, police/civilian encounters with negative results, some involving force, are not quite as rare. Statistically, they probably are, depending on what metric you use. This is easier to say if you are a member of a group that has no real reason to worry about any problematic encounters with police officers. If you are, you might be more likely to see grades of wrong quality to it all. A feeling that when something truly tragic happens (e.g., the Diallo killing), it is simply something that was bound to happen. And, there is obviously a racial angle -- look, it's Al Sharpton. I'm personally tired of him -- his reputation is more controversial than it probably deserves, but he is a professional protestor of sorts. A case like this, where even the conservative leaning NY Daily News editorial staff right away is very concerned, is a bit cheapened by such a controversial figure.

Of course, life is complicated -- two of the officers were black, two white, and one Hispanic. And, sad irony, a federal prosecution involving the killing of an undercover Haitian NYPD officer just began, involving a sting against illegal weapon sales. This does not mean the race angle is solved -- assumptions and lack of due care tends to be institutional, something that touches the minorities found there as well. The tendency of the Republican Party to at times be distastefully racial is not suddenly erased as shown by Ohio electoral policies with a black secretary of state in charge. Still, I get the idea that some have this idea that "they" were behind this "fatal shooting of yet another unarmed black man" [per the local paper] with the implication that "they" are whitey.

Life is a bit more complicated, but it remains true that due care during run of the mill police/civilian encounters is relevant here. Just as police know of those rare but still quite possible cases where an innocent looking sort suddenly becomes violent or worse [a matter underlined at Iraqi checkpoints], good police relations with the public helps -- to the degree anything can -- when tragedy occurs, including tragedy that arises from quite human bursts of fear only furthered by mistake. The complications of race and the like only underline the point. Cases like Sean Bell are sad reminds of such truths.


* I received my new World Almanac today and noticed a "surprising facts" feature. One involved 2002 U.S. deaths involving firearms, the total about thirty thousand. Over half involved suicides, only 762 unintentional (sixty involving people under 15), about twelve thousand homicides (this possibly one), three hundred by "legal intervention" (this would be one), and about two hundred and fifty undetermined. The volume is rather informative.