In the last couple of days, two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, were shot dead by police officers in America. Breaking in the news today is the story of a ‘sniper’ who has killed five policemen in Dallas during a protest. Violence begetting violence. Instigated by State law enforcers acting with no regard for human life.
There is harrowing footage on social media of the death of the first man and of the immediate aftermath of the second man’s death. The first died after being shot in a struggle with police officers. The second man, effectively, died because of a broken tail light and because he declared (in good faith) that he was in legal possession of a firearm.
Given that Alton Sterling was, allegedly, wielding a gun and behaving in a threatening manner, his shooting is arguably somewhat less morally reprehensible than Philando Castile’s, who was not wielding a gun or behaving in a threatening manner. Having said that, there is little doubt that the former’s death could have been avoided by law enforcers who cared to.
In regards to the latter, it struck me that a man wearing a police officer’s badge shot an innocent man in the same manner as many police officers in America shoot dogs. He simply unloaded a few bullets into a man sitting in his car.
Acting with no regard for animal life and a person’s property is bad enough. But acting with no regard for human life as a law enforcer is the ultimate betrayal of his duties and a complete abuse of the power granted to him. That agents of the state are consistently acting with no regard for human life reflects the true and hideous nature of the institution they represent.
Human beings are unique creatures because they can adapt their environment to benefit them to a degree far beyond any other animal. This is what has happened with the State. Over time, those who come into State power adapt the legal terrain to benefit themselves. And, thus, all future incumbents and enforcing agents of the State. This process steadily erodes order and justice in society. Whilst steadily elevating enforcing agents and holders of positions of state power higher above the law.
If we had no regard for each other’s lives, then there would be no such concept as justice. And we wouldn’t want people to enforce justice. Law enforcers must have the same incentive to act with regard for human life as everyone else. In other words they must know they will face and actually face the same consequences when they don’t. Otherwise they become the evil they are supposed to be protecting society from.
Law enforcers must act with regard for human life and they must be willing to tolerate some degree of risk to their own safety. Otherwise order and peace in society cannot be. Sadly, it is becoming less common for them to do so and to be so.
For as long as the state is the only agency that can hold itself accountable to law and morality, the incentive for law enforcers to behave with no regard for human life will remain far greater than it should be; and much greater than it is for everyone else.
Reforming the system hasn’t worked and won’t work because its success depends upon an impossible reversal of the logic of human action, and upon men in power becoming saints. The only way to stop the consistent killing of innocent people and the cycle of revenge violence caused by the perverse incentive structure which is a feature of our political system is to dismantle it. Or for it to collapse.