The best way to neutralize a threat is to not be one

Imagine if the other day, a 14-year-old cheerleader was killed at a middle school in South Texas.

She walked inside, blonde-haired and in her cheerleading outfit, and something dreadful appeared to have happened to her in the past year to the point she wanted to die but couldn’t even find a firearm to kill herself. But, she was able to find a pellet gun that resembled a real handgun, and she walked into the school in the early morning, brandishing the weapon, leading to the school’s evacuation and the arrival of the police.

When, alone in a hallway, facing police with body armor and assault rifles, she ignored their orders to put down the gun, and apparently let them know she was willing to die. When she pointed her weapon at police, she was shot twice. She was the only injury and only fatality in the incident.

Although it sounds incredible, this really happened in Brownsville, except it was a 15-year-old boy, and his name was Jaime Gonzalez Jr.

I’ve heard it said that police were just doing what they were trained to do — neutralize threats — and I suppose that’s true. Even that this wasn’t a mistake, that anyone in that situation has already forfeited his or her life and deserves to die. I’ve heard that a 15-year-old boy, once he brings what appears to be a gun to school, has become a man, and is eligible for summary execution. And I suppose 14-year-old girls also become men, and 10-year-old boys, too. And 6-year-olds. And 4.

If you say police should execute children who put them in danger, I say that is evil. If their training leads them to execute children, their training is evil. If, after handcuffing the boy, an officer fondles the boy’s crotch, and that makes the officer a monster, but shooting him twice in the torso while alone in a hallway is part of doing the job, I say this is perverse. And unholy.

I’ll reiterate something I’ve said before, because I think there are few things more important: The fact that Odessa police have not killed anyone in more than 10 years speaks volumes about them, about their training and their mindset. For every valid criticism one can have, this thing does not get enough of our praise.

Because in most other parts of the U.S., it difficult to have sympathy for police who die in the line of duty.

First, it is exceptionally rare for this to happen. It is much more common for law enforcement of all kinds to kill someone (even by mistake) than to be killed; to assault people than be assaulted; to victimize than be victims. People with pieces of wood are much more likely to be shot to death by a police officer than a police officer is to be assaulted by that person, much less killed.

(Someone who makes a mistake and shoots an officer will get the death penalty; an officer who makes a mistake and shoots a person will get a reprimand.)

Police officers in body armor and helmets, with assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols and shotguns, are not especially at risk in a firefight. Certainly not against boys, even those with working handguns.

So if you say the duty of police is first and foremost to neutralize threats, or to protect their own lives, then police are nothing more than exceptionally well-funded and equipped and organized thugs, and cowards, most of all. If the only options one gives are “obey” or “or be killed,” that’s not heroic.

People in many occupations die. Police are heroic when they do everything they can to prevent people from being killed.

What is heroic is the idea that police protect and serve. Not protect themselves or their own interests, but protect the citizenry. An obviously mentally disturbed 15-year-old is not a threat to be neutralized; he is a citizen. He needs to be protected.

We all do.

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