In early 2016, an Arizona police officer yelled highly confusing commands at a sobbing and terrified Daniel Shaver (who, as it turns out, was unarmed), warning him that if he made a mistake, he might die, and die he did. For the sake of this column, I rewatched the video of this incident, witnessing his body crumple as it was peppered with bullets. Believe me, I didn’t want to.
Just this year, officers in Lethbridge, Alberta, weapons drawn, took down (but thankfully didn’t kill) a poor 19-year-old girl because she was carrying a plastic gun as part of a Stormtrooper costume she was in to advertise the Stars Wars Day promotion at her workplace.
Like all of you, I also watched the asphyxiation of George Floyd.
I don’t want to talk about his past or the looting and rioting, which many of you are all too eager to distract yourselves with. I want to talk about law enforcement – those who are supposed to serve and protect – abusing their power, because aggression from state actors is far more perturbing than any civilian crimes.
These stories are not one-offs. There are so many more I want to share that I just don’t have the space for, countless examples of police on pandemic-fed power trips slapping down punishing fines the moment a plebeian dares question them. The response of the police to the George Floyd protests has been distressing. No one has been spared. Reporters have been arrested and shot at; a 75-year-old was shoved and fell, leaving him with a brain injury. Suffice it to say, there’s an extremely fat record of police overreach and brutality that signals a systemic problem, one that’s worsened by racism. If you don’t buy that, do your own research.
Granted, this isn’t a “life issue” as we typically conceive of it, but it’s obviously still life or death; you could ask Shaver and Floyd if they were still alive.
It is apropos to quote Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The belief in the value and dignity of every human being underlies the pro-life position, so whenever that dignity is assaulted, so too is the philosophy that the pro-life movement is built on.
Let’s also not forget that preborn children and their pregnant mothers can be victims of police brutality. On May 25, the same day Floyd was killed, Emerald Black filed a lawsuit alleging cops stomped on her belly last year and caused her to miscarry. A pregnant protester in Austin, Texas, was reportedly recently shot with non-lethal rounds, including in the abdomen. There’s an outstanding question as well about whether tear gas can be abortifacient. (Pro-choicers have been asking, “Where’s the pro-life outrage?” Well, here it is.)
We pro-lifers have learned to be suspicious of our various legislatures and courts, knowing well how biased they are and their history of unjust policies or decisions. Unfortunately, many of us don’t seem to have the same suspicion for “law enforcement,” even though they enforce the unjust part of it too. Who arrested Linda Gibbons, Mary Wagner, and Fr. Tony Van Hee after all?
Police officers can no more excuse their actions by claiming that they’re just following orders than can a doctor who’s told to commit an abortion. Neither can they excuse their actions with fear. They ought to be prepared to lay down their lives before using force inappropriately and if they’re not, they have no business wearing the uniform.
We are the ones who put the guns in the hands of cops and so it’s all the more necessary that not a single misstep of theirs be tolerated. As comedian Chris Rock pointed out, “Some jobs can’t have bad apples. Some jobs, everybody gotta be good. Like, pilots. American Airlines can’t be like, ‘You know, most of our pilots like to land, we just got a few bad apples that like to crash into mountains’.”
And if the bad apples aren’t being rootled for and immediately thrown out? The whole force is rotten. The bad apples prove that the badge doesn’t make one deserving of power and deference. The good apples, then, know that it’s their job to personally earn the respect of civilians, who have no other way to distinguish between the good and the bad.
The Police Executive Research Forum’s “Guiding Principles on Use of Force” state first and foremost: “The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.” That’s not the case across North America – and pro-lifers should have no problem insisting it be.