Defining unarmed

Barbara A. Schwartz

Another police shooting made national headlines, claiming an officer shot an “unarmed” man, resulting in protests.

The definition of “unarmed” needs clarification.

What those wearing the badge consider armed verses unarmed; and what the civilian public and media consider armed verses unarmed, differ.

Time to educate

When an individual strikes an officer, that individual crosses a line, and they are no longer defenseless. In fact, they are on the offensive. Striking an officer with any part of the body is not “unarmed. ” The body contains many weapons–fists to punch with, legs to kick with, head bumps, etc.

For centuries, in the martial arts world, empty hand has been defined as a deadly fighting art.

Every officer has seen, either in the academy or in-service training, the 1997 dash cam video of Carthage, Texas, Officer Michelle Jeter’s beating. In the process of executing a traffic stop, Officer Jeter sustained serious bodily injury as she was beaten by a hefty, tall man who had outstanding warrants and didn’t want to go back to jail.

Officer Jeter suffered a broken jaw and a bashed in eye socket as well as numerous other injuries. Ask Officer Jeter if she considered this man “unarmed.”

Every officer comes equipped with a firearm.

The FBI’s publication, In the Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Law Enforcement Officers, states that “Even in these situations in which the offender was unarmed and a struggle developed, officers were keenly aware that their service weapons were within reach of the offenders. ” (page 18)

An officer who has been beaten to the point of a disabling injury, unconsciousness, or extreme physical fatigue cannot defend his/her equipment. For example, an individual commandeering a taser can incapacitate an officer and allow access to his/her service weapon.

To keep a firearm and all the other equipment on their duty belt from being used against them, officers must defend themselves PRIOR to being rendered incapacitated.

Totality of the circumstances

In light of the recent shootings, protesters are calling for the policies, training, and procedures governing officer’s use of deadly force to be redefined and revised.

You can redefine and revise from here to eternity, but in that moment of truth, when the officer actively engages in hands-on combat, it is the sole discretion of the officer to assess the threat and determine what is necessary and reasonable force and when to escalate to deadly force.

The officer is the only one who can define when that line is crossed and when they feel their life is in danger–and that line can be different for each officer. What a small stature officer considers life-threatening will differ from what a six-foot-four, three-hundred-pound officer feels is life-threatening.

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on this topic, most notably in Graham v. Conner: “The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. ”

Easy to judge the officer from an easy chair, jury box, or anchor desk with hindsight vision when your butt is not in the sling, and you are not being attacked and fighting for your life.

The Supreme Court understands this. The American public and news media need to heed the Supreme Court’s wisdom.

Time to squelch the protests that inflame with uneducated rhetoric.

Reality of felonious assaults against officers

According to the FBI’s 2013 LEOKA (Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted) statistical database, 79.8% of the assaults on officers were by “personal weapons” defined by the FBI as hands, fists, feet, etc.

In the same year, 4.5% of the assaults were by firearms, 1.8% by edged weapons, and 1.3% by other dangerous weapons.

Of the officers assaulted by “personal weapons, ” 31% sustained injuries. The highest injury rate for any type of felonious assault.

The statistics prove that more officers are assaulted and injured by individuals using “personal weapons, ” or what the public and the news media deem “unarmed, ” than by firearms or edged weapons.

LEOKA databases reveal similar statistics throughout the last decade.

So why are these shootings making headlines now?

Because protests that erupted in Ferguson turned violent, with buildings and police cars burnt to the ground, and that made good news copy.

Officers’ lives matter, too.

When an individual assaults, or threatens to assault, an officer, wearing the badge and uniform of his/her sworn office, that individual has communicated his or her intent to harm the officer, and that situation can potentially become a deadly force situation.

Having defined unarmed and reviewed statistical data detailing assaults on police officers, what level of serious bodily injury must an officer endure to have deadly force be considered reasonable, necessary, and justified by the public, the news media, and the protesters?

Let’s make another fact crystal clear while considering the perspective of officers who are getting the crap knocked out of them. Officers view an individual assaulting them as a threat. At that moment, officers do not see or care about the person’s race, gender, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, or sexual preference. They care about stopping the threat and going home to their loved ones at the end of their work day.

Message to the protesters and the news media: assault is color blind and no individual is “unarmed. ”

According to the law of the streets where these assaults occur, there is no “unarmed” individual.

Barbara A. Schwartz devotes her life to writing about the brave officers of law enforcement