In the wake of the murder of Atatiana Jefferson by a Fort Worth cop, many people have been noting a point that I have tried to make for years: police need to cease viewing the possible presence of a gun as probable cause that a crime has been committed, and that deadly force is automatically justified. Our nation supposedly operates under the principle of presumed innocence; it is time for the police to recognize that.
The belief otherwise appears to be so ingrained in the Fort Worth Police Department that they even edited the killer’s body-worn camera video to add still shots of a handgun in the victim’s home (above), as if to say, See? Gun! He had to shoot her, thus outraging the sane.
And then there is Jim Schutze, of the Dallas Observer.
Morning News Says Cops Should ‘Defer’ to Gun Owners. They’re Totally Nuts.
The Dallas Morning News editorial page took a blindfolded backward step off the diving board Monday in an editorial asserting that police have an “obligation of deference” to armed homeowners in terms of who may shoot first.
But (the) paper says this: “It’s not too early to say that Jefferson did not have an obligation of deference to an unidentified person skulking around her backyard. There was, however, an obligation of deference. In this case, it was (the police officer) who had an obligation to be deferential to Atatiana Jefferson’s rights.”
Schutze asserts that the officer had no such obligation to respect his victim’s rights…or her life. To support this claim, he cites the philosopher Hobbes.
Whoever wrote this editorial must have skipped school in college on the day his or her instructor was explaining “Leviathan,” a seminal work on this topic by the 17th-century English philosopher and scientist, Thomas Hobbes. The topic is violence and who or what has a right to use violence legally.
Hobbes said only the state has a “monopoly of violence.” Since Hobbes, no thinker important to the laws of this nation has questioned his basic premise, though some have pointed to exceptions, mainly in the area of self-defense, which is what Atatiana Jefferson would have been doing if it turns out to be true she pointed her gun out the window and the cop saw it.
I don’t consider Leviathan recommending reading, except in the “know your enemy” sense. Let me summarize the book:
- Individuals are anarchic and incapable of good.
- Only a single, powerful, undivided government can force “good” — order — on those individuals.
- Government must be all-powerful; in force of arms, economics, culture, and even religion (determining in what the people are required to have faith).
Schutze apparently made it to his Philosophy for Totalitarians classes, but he skipped American History and Constitutional Law, as his claim that “no thinker important to the laws of this nation has questioned his basic premise” demonstrates.
Consider, for example, our Constitution. It could well have been drafted by people using Leviathan as a guide of what not to do.
- Our government was designed to be divided: An executive branch, a judicial branch, a legislative branch further divided into a House and Senate with (originally) differing selection processes meant to hold each other in check.
- Rather than being all-powerful, the government was assigned specific limited duties, and expressly forbidden to do several things (Bill of Rights; and pay special attention to the Ninth and Tenth amendments).
- The very first amendment to the Constitution forbade the government messing about with religion, directly contradicting another of Hobbes’ ideas.
The Leviathan of which Schutze is so enamored is exactly what wiser Constitutional Convention attendees were trying to avoid. They wanted a government that would serve free individuals, not own them. A government which would protect individual rights.
That includes the right to presumed innocence. True, they didn’t use the formal phrase in the Constitution. But they certainly included it by detail in the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. And that specific right to be armed without being automatically assumed guilty is protected by the Second.
Yes, the police do need to defer to the rights of citizens, lacking any actual probable cause to believe an actual crime has been committed.
Ah, but then Schutze goes on to say…
But the more important thing is that the truth is exactly the opposite of what the paper suggests. It is the citizen gun owner who has an obligation of deference to the police. Always.
No. No one owes deference to police violating the law. No one owed deference to the Georgia police officer many years ago, who made unfounded traffic stops of attractive women to extort sexual favors. Atatiana Jefferson owed no deference to the officer who shot her on sight, without even completing a verbal command.
The only deference police should receive from citizens is reasonable compliance with lawful commands. Times may have changed since I was in military service, but back then we were specifically taught that not only should we not obey unlawful orders, but we could have an obligation to actively prevent unlawful acts by our superiors.
Arresting or shooting an innocent citizen merely because they possessed a firearm is not lawful.
The Supreme Court, in Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432 (1895), explained this:
The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law …
Possession of a firearm is not automatically a crime. Because some developmentally challenged politicians had trouble with the concept, we had the Heller and McDonald decisions. They are — slowly — learning.
Now we need to get police departments off the short bus, and to recognize that private citizens want go home safe at the end of their shift, too.