Posted December 7, 2014

By Edmund R. Folsom


Just as every cop is a criminal

And all the sinners saints

As heads is tails

Just call me Lucifer

‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint

                                              “Sympathy For The Devil,”  The Rolling Stones


If nothing else, Michael Brown’s death by police shooting, in Ferguson, MO, and the death by police asphyxiation of Eric Garner, in New York City, should serve to warn the uninitiated that it’s extremely dangerous to try to wrestle a gun away from and attack a police officer right after you commit a robbery, or to fight with officers who are attempting to arrest you for even the most trivial of crimes.  Even if you are not dealing with officers who are prone to serve up dollops of excessive force at the first colorable excuse, you will be dealing with officers who want to go home at the end of their shift alive, kicking and uninjured.    Anyone who causes police to think “it’s either you or me, about to be injured or killed,” or who tries to self-determine, by use of force, whether he will be arrested or not, is making a foolish mistake.   No cop is bound by law to bear that risk or to let the suspect’s will prevail.   Are there lots of cops who traffic in excessive force?  Oh yes, there are!   But neither the Michael Brown nor the Eric Garner case stands out as a particularly good example.  Is it ridiculous that Eric Garner was killed during his attempted arrest for selling individual cigarettes on the street?   Yes, it is, but that’s in part because, in New York City, selling individual cigarettes is a criminal offense for which a person can be lawfully arrested to begin with.   Arrests are serious matters, and they should be reserved for violations of law serious enough to warrant them, as opposed to unserious matters more appropriately handled with a ticket for a civil infraction.   But once society chooses to make something a crime for which a person can be arrested, chaos would rule if the cops tasked with enforcing those laws were required to let people who violate them choose whether or not to submit to arrest (and by the way, there are probably few who fight arrest who don’t scream that police are breaking their arms, cutting off their circulation or choking them to death).   I’m all for keeping to a minimum those interactions between police and members of the public that can lead the former to apply handcuffs to the latter, because the potential for ugliness in each of those interactions is immense.   On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine a way to eliminate the potential for ugliness when a person decides to wrestle a cop over his gun, other than to not  go there in the first place.


In Maine, quite a few people have been shot to death by police.  According to a 2012 series in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, police in Maine shot at 101 people between 1990 and 2012.  In fact, just this past week, a woman with a gun was shot to death in South Berwick, in the 10th Maine police shooting, and 6th shooting death, this year.  A fair number of the people shot by Maine police were mentally ill and in distress.  Just maybe, the “you or me” moment in some of those cases could have been avoided by a less aggressive or more skilled handling of the situation.  But in all of those cases, the officers were determined by the A.G.’s Office to have been justified in pulling the trigger when their “you or me” moment arrived.  Where were the “lie-ins” and the “die-ins” for any of those?