By now everyone’s heard that Federal Air Marshals killed a man, Rigoberto Alpizar, in Miami. He ran down the aisle of a plane probably saying he had a bomb in his bag and ran into the jetway. Marshals shot him several times when he refused to follow their commands and then reached into his bag. It turned out that Alpizar didn’t have a bomb and was simply deranged.
Given the facts before them, the marshals could’ve done anything differently, but there are always people who question life-and-death situations. They wonder if an unarmed man really needed to be killed, they question officer training, and they debate why law enforcement shoots to kill. Invariably, law enforcement people (current or retired) explain that cops shoot to stop and the debate continues.
This morning, Katie Couric of NBC’s Today show argued that air marshals could have just incapacitated Alpizar with a perfectly placed shot. She may be watching too much television, but I think her statement is born of pure ignorance coupled with a certain fiction law enforcement tries to maintain.
First let's talk about Couric’s ignorance, which is born from a willful lack of experience. I don’t know if she’s ever shot a gun, but I doubt that she’s ever mastered one. If she had, she would have fired at different rates of speed—everything from very deliberate bullseye-type slowfire to a fast shot out of a holster. She might have fired under different levels of stress—anything from no stress, to competition-caused stress, to combat training’s induced stress. If she’s had such experience, she’d know how difficult it would be to incapacitate someone with a quick shot to a shoulder, hand, or wherever.
Couric’s ignorance is hers alone, but she’s in a position to share it with millions of people, many without any real experience with firearms. They’ll listen to her and demand “reforms” of law enforcement policies until a cop is killed trying to “shoot to incapacitate,” or a bomber sets off his bomb, or more likely cops and their departments get sued for trying to shoot to wound and hitting a bystander.
But, law enforcement is not merely a victim of public opinion drummed up by Katie Couric and her compatriots. Too many people in law enforcement, particularly at top levels, foist an attitude that only they have the training to deal with criminals, that only they are trained well enough to carry a gun in public, and that “regular” civilians can’t be trusted with firearms. After awhile, the public starts believing the police can do anything and wonder then why they would kill people when they could simply incapacitate.
Is it any wonder then that willful ignorance coupled with law enforcement’s belief in its own specialness confuses most people?