Yesterday, a crazy person rampaged through the Social Science Centre at the University of Western Ontario – the building I would have been working in had I not been home sick – and after barricading himself in an office and threatening people, had a run-in with police. His arrest was captured on video and posted to Youtube almost immediately.
Here’s the full story at the London Free Press, and the video is below (warning: a bit disturbing).
Opinions are divided on this one. Many people think it is an example of police brutality. Others think the officers used an acceptable level of force. Here are my thoughts.
When it comes to a violent act, people often consider whether or not the person “deserved it.” This guy deserved it. He had already punched an officer and caused grief on upper floors (though it’s unclear whether he caused physical harm to anyone else) before being taken down on the first floor.
However, we, as a civilized society, and especially our police officers, should need better reasons for violence than whether or not someone deserved it. Judging someone as worthy of punishment is an emotional decision, and not a rational one. In my humble opinion, violence should only be carried out when it is the only possible way to bring about a greater good (e.g., preventing further violence). “Deserving it” has nothing to do with whether or not the violent act would be effective in accomplishing the actor’s goal.
I prefer to avoid having strong opinions unless I am fully informed about a situation. With many issues, I think it is more useful to identify the questions that would need to be answered in order to have an informed opinion, rather than immediately forming one based on gut reactions to incomplete information.
In this case, the crucial question is this: after the six police officers had the man on the ground, could they have subdued him without kneeing him, punching him, and beating him with a baton? Or were these actions motivated purely by a sense of “he deserved it”?
I genuinely don’t know. It is quite possible that the only way to get handcuffs on a strong, struggling, possibly insane man is to weaken him with pain, and this is reflected in police training and proper procedure. It’s also possible that the actions were motivated purely by the darker side of human emotion.
And I understand that. It’s quite possible this dangerous man passed by my office yesterday; I feel that dark desire to see him harmed and locked up, for what he did and could have done to me and people I care about. He deserved to be hurt. But if we want the world to be a better, more humane place, we need to resist these gut reactions and look at violence purely with cool-head rationality.