Keep lethal force as officers’ last resort

Praising the police officers who perform their jobs without using lethal force doesn’t end brutality.

by Keelia Moeller

A recent MPR News study illustrated the number of police cases which end without officers resorting to the use of lethal force. This study illustrates how the majority of police encounters don’t end with lethal force, but I nevertheless believe law enforcement agents in Minnesota still kill suspects more often than they should.
Because organizations like Black Lives Matter have decried the racial bias that often accompanies police brutality, there’s growing pressure in our society to make people remember we pay the police to protect citizens’ lives — not prematurely end them. 
According to MPR, in the past year, 11 Minnesota law-enforcement cases ended with officers killing people. However, in what seems to me like an attempt to overshadow the use of lethal force and replace it with the reminder that some police officers choose not to react disproportionately, MPR’s study focuses on a Golden Valley Police Department case.
In Golden Valley, an officer was handcuffing Colonjay Eggleston, whom he had pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. MPR reported that the officer said Eggleston was very cooperative. But as he brought Eggleston to get his blood tested, Eggleston suddenly resisted, and it took several people to restrain him.
MPR’s story praises this specific officer because he didn’t draw his weapon and fire. But we shouldn’t praise police simply for disarming people without the use of lethal weapons, especially when the assailants are armed with nonlethal tools.
‘Praising the officers who do their duty distances us from the very real problem of police brutality and suggests that because there are some successes stories, stories of failure don’t matter. Despite many accounts of nonviolent or nonlethal takedowns, some U.S. officers continue to rely on lethal force far too often. 
Of course, none of this is to say that we shouldn’t applaud this Golden Valley police officer’s actions — but his story simply isn’t powerful enough to overshadow police wrongdoings. No matter how inspirational the story is, it’s not inspirational enough to bring back those who have died at the hands of police. 
Moreover, we should consider that the Golden Valley story is only inspirational in the first place because it contrasts with how inappropriately we expect many police officers would have handled a similar situation. When something as simple as proper behavior becomes inspirational, it makes me realize just how improper our society has become. 
Focusing our attention on well-behaved police officers will not make incidents of lethal force disappear. We need to delve into the histories of officers who use lethal force, closely monitoring their behavior in order to screen them for signs of prejudice. 
If we want to eliminate police misconduct, constant surveillance, proper training and bias elimination programs are the most powerful tools at hand. 
Keelia Moeller welcomes comments at [email protected].