"I can't breathe" - the death of George Floyd
Another black man was killed by police officers in Minnesota a few days ago. In a disturbing video, you can hear George Floyd repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe," as an officer can be seen sitting with his knee on the back of his neck for at least 5 minutes. Knowing that the words are going to be Mr. Floyd's last make the video so much more painful to watch. Because of it, the four police officers involved in the arrest have been fired and are most likely going to face criminal charges. From having spent countless hours working with Law Enforcement, it is also sad to see four men soiling the reputation of one of the most heroic professions there is. The Use of Force and police brutality is a constant issue we see both in media, as well as in Law Enforcement training. I want to start off by saying that I am in no way condoning or trying to make excuses for the officers in this particular case or any other case where the Use of Force has been violated. The purpose of this is to look at the psychology behind police officers using extreme force to detain a suspect. With over 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the U.S., you're going to get some bad human beings, just like in any area of life. You will find racists; officers with questionable motives and ethics; and downright sociopaths. However, I can tell you that most law enforcement officers don't fit any of those categories. Most officers are good human beings, who have dedicated their lives to protect others. What's important to remember is that behind every badge and uniform, is a human being. Many officers grew up wanting to become law enforcement their entire lives. Thus, many of them were good people growing up and have never been in a fight in their entire life or they have had very limited exposure to physical confrontations. They spend 6 months to a year in the academy, depending on what state they are in and then they're given a badge and a gun and told to go and patrol the streets.
When a human is confronted with what is perceived as a threat, we will have something called an Acute Stress Response, also known as an adrenaline dump. If the said individual has not been trained on how to handle such stress, the response is often irrational, illogical and at times, downright idiotic, with catastrophic consequences.
So what can we do to change it? To make sure that the Use of Force applied is appropriate to the threat perceived? A man with no weapons, handcuffed on his stomach, is very little of a threat. A trained professional would know that pressing a knee with the full weight of a grown man into someone's neck over a long period of time can have deadly consequences.
Unfortunately, the main issue lies in that so few officers get an appropriate amount of training when it comes to the Use of Force. In fact, there are many departments that offer no training at all when it comes to Force Training. Zero. Can you imagine?! You give someone a uniform, several high force weapons and then ask them to go out and protect the population but don't provide the appropriate training for when they are confronted by a perceived threat.
It is a recipe for disaster.
The solution is to provide all officers with a suitable amount of training, both when it comes to situational training, psychological stress, as well as martial arts. It is also crucial that such training is ongoing and tested on an annual basis. Because it doesn't matter if an officer is fresh out of the academy or if they have been on the force for 20 years: experience in the profession doesn't necessarily translate into experience in hand to hand combat. Many departments are still scared of providing martial arts training to their officers, under the uneducated pretext that it will make their officers more violent. On the contrary, having trained officers means more confident officers, who are able to make rational decisions during a high-stress event, as well as understanding the effects of the force used.
Lastly, my condolences to the Floyd family. No life should be taken if it can be prevented, which in this case it so clearly could.