To the Editor:
As a result of the police shooting on an I-95 ramp in Providence that left the driver dead and his passenger seriously wounded newspapers are full of letters to the editor and radio talk show callers expressing outrage at “killing a citizen who posed little danger to the public.” The victim’s brother blames “trigger happy police.”
One person wonders why a police sniper did not shoot out the tires on the vehicle, as if that would stop him from running on the rims. Another asks why the police did not fire “warning shots,” as though bullets fired into the air do not come down someplace.
Why did Providence and State Police fire 40 rounds? Recently, I participated in a tactical shooting class that involved firing from, around and through a motor vehicle. We fired at targets inside the cars with handguns of several calibers including those used by the Rhode Island State Police and Providence PD. Despite what you see on TV, movies and video games, bullets are deflected by sheet metal and windshields. The truck’s windows were tinted so the police could not see who or how many people were in it and whether they were armed.
The ACLU – no surprise – “seeks answers” as to why police used lethal force against an “unarmed civilian.” I guess they do not believe a truck weighing 5,000 pounds can become a lethal weapon.
Predictably the victim’s family members are talking about how he had “turned his life around” after a troubled childhood and 33 previous run-ins with the law. This did not prevent the victim from fathering a son when he was 15 years old and abandoning the child three years later. Both he and his passenger have a history of drug abuse.
Why did the driver not pull over when “lit up” by police cars? Perhaps the fact that he had two outstanding warrants for his arrest, did not have a driver’s license and the truck was unregistered meant that he knew he was going to jail if he stopped. Were there drugs or paraphernalia in the truck or in their blood? We don’t have that information yet.
Some years ago I graduated from a citizens’ police academy. I have gone on ride-alongs with three police departments. On one of them I asked the field training officer I was with what advice he gave to probationary officers. He replied, “Don’t take this job if you can’t stand criticism. You will be second-guessed all the time by your superiors, the public, the media and the courts.”
One thing I am sure of: The vast majority of law enforcement officers do not report for duty every day, pull on a bullet resistant vest and a heavy belt with firearm, ammunition, collapsible baton, chemical spray, radio, handcuffs, flashlight and sometimes a taser with the idea they are going to kill someone. They are human beings with a life off the job. They are not perfect and sometimes have to make immediate life-or-death decisions. We should thank God that there are men and women who will put it all on the line to protect us.
Richard J. August