February 23, 2020
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Shooting Sheriffs

Shooting Sheriffs
IN the United States, all the news, in both print and electronic media, is about crime. Crime, minute by minute, from every angle, in obsessive detail. With endless debates on the ethical questions involved. Often, the circumstances justify the debates. Here are two representative cases.

The day I reached New Orleans, the big news was the police killing of a 13-year-old boy. They had chased a gang of teenage criminals into an empty house. During the search, a policeman opened a dark closet and a 13-year-old boy, who had been hiding inside, rushed out and, apparently, grabbed the cop's throat. The policeman fired, killing the boy. The boy had no criminal record, but his 19-year-old elder brother was a known criminal. He had been chatting with his brother when the police gave chase. As his brother and the rest of the gang ran and hid in the house, so did the small boy. Should the policeman have waited that extra fraction of a second before he fired? He would have then known that this was just a small boy; on the other hand, if it had been someone else, that extra half-second could have meant the policeman's death.

A few days later came the acquittal of a policeman in another infamous shooting case. A man came out of a shop to find two masked goons trying to steal his car. He drew his gun and fired at them. The would-be-thieves fired back. At this point, an off-duty policeman came out of a nearby bar. From where he stood, he could see only the car owner shooting. The policeman drew his gun and shouted at him to drop his weapon. The man refused, shouting back that he was hassling the wrong man. The policeman claims he couldn't make out what the man was saying, but saw him turning his gun towards him (a not-unjustifiable perception if the man turned to yell at the cop). The policeman shot and killed the car owner. The car thieves were never caught. What should the policeman have done?

When the blink of an eyelid makes the difference between life and death, how do you wait to find out?

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