The police in the USA have long been a staple for jokes about lazy, fat people dedicated to very little other than their daily doughnut consumption. It seems that the image of a US policeman greedy for deep-fried pastries is one that has always been with us. There is another image of the US police, however, one which is fast replacing the almost benign joke of a fat man more likely to reach for his snack food than anything else.
That image, as we all know, is of a trigger-happy man in uniform, continually on the verge of using deadly force for the most minor of presumed traffic violations.
There is an undeniable technological aspect to the rise of this new image of the US police. With camera phones in every pocket of every bystander in every locale, things which might once be later related orally are now sent spinning at lightspeed onto social media in the form of documentable photos, videos, and audio recordings. That element constitutes part of the rise of the updated image of the police. The other main element, of course, comes from the police themselves, in the form of body camera footage and dash cam footage which the police record themselves, sometimes. When the body and dash cameras are recording, and when footage from those sources is released yet again onto the internet, and from there into the galaxy of social media, it tends to add fuel to the fire, rather than calming things down. A double-edged sword, seemingly.
Now, although there can be no defence for shooting unarmed citizens when they’re sat in their cars, desperately trying to obey orders being shouted at them by one or more police officers, there has to be a reason for police shooting and killing those who it transpires posed nothing of a threat.
It surely can’t simply be a case of all US police officers being recklessly trigger happy, can it?
If it is the case that police officers in the US are more trigger happy than other police forces, there must surely be some sort of explanation as to why this is the case, shouldn’t there?
The main reason for the heightened tension in the responses of US police is probably connected to the fact that in the US there are more guns than there are people. For every 100 citizens, there are 120.5 firearms!
Oddly enough, the 2nd and 3rd countries in the top 10 are the Falkland Islands, and Yemen. Presumably, the high number of firearms in the Falklands stems from the invasion of the islands by Argentine military forces in 1982 which led to the islanders entering a state of permanent readiness for military aggression at some point in the future. As for Yemen, well, the armed conflict there has been blamed for the largest humanitarian crisis in the world at present.
What links all three countries therefore is nothing less than that they exist either in a state of war or in a state of preparedness for war.
Although the US tends to present itself as a country at peace, it seems hard to reconcile that concept with the fact that there are more guns than people. And, presumably, just as there are unregistered citizens, we can presume that there are also unregistered firearms. The startling fact is that there may well be even more guns than people. We’ll never know.
Without wanting to paint the blackest picture possible, it does seem that, if not the whole of the country, parts of the US are closer to a warzone than anything peaceful.
As a result, police in those areas are more likely to act in a manner to ensure their own protection. Self-preservation is basic human nature.
One other critical factor relates to not the number of firearms, but the type of firearm that can be found in the US. Long since gone are the days of having to shoot bears to protect your family or similar. Guns in the US tend to be bought with the goal of providing defence for yourself and your property, but not primarily from wild animals. Rather from other armed individuals who would do you harm or steal from you.
In Britain, for example, following the end of WWII, then surplus pistols were issued to certain police units. The police are traditionally trained to shoot not to wound, but rather to incapacitate. This explains why they aim for the chest, a bullet to the chest will normally incapacitate. The difference is that someone hit in the upper torso with a (relatively) slow bullet from a WWII-era pistol could survive the experience. With a modern weapon, that chance is greatly reduced, obviously.
Now although 67% of US citizens who possess firearms state that their reason for having a gun is protection, there are obviously various individuals who possess firearms for more nefarious reasons. Criminals, by definition, don’t follow the law and so, armed criminals in the US are a problem because of the weapons that they are able to lay their hands on.
Mini sub-machine guns and assault rifles, for example, are not the sort of weapons that would be used for hunting animals.
Due to the relatively small size of weapons like these, they can well be concealed, and the chance of being faced with one would obviously scare anyone half to death.
That permanent fear, the fear of suddenly coming face to face with something which is capable of filling your body with dozens of deadly pieces of lead in the blink of an eye has an effect on the way the US police approach anything and anyone.
Approximately 1,000 citizens are shot dead by the police in the US annually. Approximately 50 police officers are killed by gunfire in the US annually.
In an attempt to protect officers, US police forces now increasingly resemble the military. The “1033 programme” allows the transfer of surplus military equipment to the police. The result is that in the US there are criminals who may have laid their hands on firepower like this:
Meanwhile, the police are tooling themselves up with firepower like this: