It has become a near-constant refrain.
After almost every officer-involved shooting, we now hear criminal supporters activists whining that the suspect shot by police “didn’t deserve” to be shot.
Bizarrely, it doesn’t seem to matter to the public whether the suspect was unarmed, or had a knife, bat, handgun, shotgun, or rifle. Theses activists seem to think that a taser is an appropriate response for almost any violent suspect in every criminal incident… and we likely have serially inaccurate reporting in the media to blame.
Let’s take a look at one incident which reflects the larger trend.
Friday, February 6, 40-year-old Mark Lewis Moser allegedly got drunk and grabbed a shotgun. He fired it into the air outside his home. His girlfriend locked herself in the bathroom and called the police, who cordoned off the area until they were able to safely take him into custody.
Numerous media outlets decided to cover the story, and as always, it is their headlines that leave the strongest initial impression on what occurred. Here is what the local news outlets claimed.
WTVR – Standoff ends as Chesterfield police taser man armed with shotgun. This horribly inaccurate headline was later changed to Police stun drunk boyfriend to end Chesterfield standoff
WWBT – Chesterfield police use taser on man armed with gun. This is an equally false claim.
Officers did not use a taser on Moser while he was armed.
Here’s what really happened (from WTVR’s own report):
“He discharged his shotgun in the air after observing the officers. He then entered the residence leaving the shotgun by the front door,” Lt. Miller said. “Officers approached and shot Moser with a Taser as he came out of the residence. Moser was safely brought into custody and no one was injured during this incident.”
As the story clearly shows, Moser put the shotgun down and was unarmed when police used a taser to subdue him and take him into custody.
This is a distinction with a major difference.
Law enforcement officers have a continuum of force that they follow to enforce the law and bring suspects under control and stop them from being a threat to the public and to the officers themselves. This force continuum is based on the totality of the circumstances, and includes all variables the officer may ran across during a given encounter. A small sample of the possible variables includes the perceived threat potential of the suspect, lighting conditions, location, any weapons thought to be at the scene, etc. You’ll note that the use of force continuum is based on perceived threats; no human being is expected to have to have extra sensory perception in a self-defense scenario.
If a citizen thinks that a suspect had a real gun and shoots him (as 67-year-old concealed carrier did in Upper Darby, PA did to a 20-year-old would-be robber), it matters little whether the gun was real, or was just an airsoft toy. Officers and citizens alike get the benefit of the doubt in these scenarios.
In this instance with a drunk and suicidal Moser, officers did not want to use lethal force if they did not have to do so, and Mr. Moser obliged them by putting the weapon down. Because Moser put the weapon down, officers were able to move in and then employ a taser to take him into custody instead of using firearms.
But that isn’t what the media reported in their headlines, and it is something the media all too frequently reports inaccurately. Thanks to this sort of serially inaccurate reporting, the general public is fed misinformation, and develops a false sense of when tasers and other less-lethal options should be used.
Tasers are only viable when a suspect is unarmed, and there are enough officers on the scene to back the officer using the taser with lethal force if the taser fails (which is does an astonishing percentage of the time, leaving the officer momentarily defenseless).
This sort of bad reporting and myth-making is part of the reason why we had riots over Michael Brown and other criminals that were clearly “good shoots.”
It’s time to hold the media accountable for the messes that they are making through bad reporting.