If You Think Antonio Martin Deserved to Die, You Really Don't Get It | Race, Police Brutality, and Lethal Force
If you think Antonio Martin deserved to die, you don't get it.
When I woke up this morning to the news that another black teenager was killed by another police officer with Antonio Martin's death only minutes from Ferguson, Missouri, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Disbelief: why does this story sound so familiar, and why do I keep waking up to news like this? Gut wrenching grief: I can't imagine how much pain Martin's family must be going through this holiday season, or the pain that Michael Brown's and Trayvon Martin's and Oscar Grant's and Eric Garner's and Tamir Rice's and too many other's families must feel during this time when family is held up as all important. Anger and confusion: why does this keep happening, and why the hell aren't we any closer to a society where cops killing minorities isn't common place?
Antonio Martin, on Tape
And then I noticed something happen which always happens when a big story blows up, even when it involves a human's death and should be greeted with nothing but sadness: controversy started swirling, and people I know and love and respect started making statements like "Antonio Martin deserved to die." If you think this the case, you really don't get it. It is wrong for anyone to be killed, it is especially wrong for a police officer to kill someone, and it is even more wrong for a cop to choose to use lethal force against a minority when there are other options on the table. Read on for my thoughts about race, police brutality, and why it is absolutely, inarguably wrong that Antonio Martin isn't alive today.
The Facts of the Case: Is Antonio Martin Innocent?
Is Antonio Martin innocent? Most likely, no. But did he deserve to die? Most certainly not. And if you point to the facts of the case as evidence to the contrary, you just don't get it.
The footage isn't very clear...
Did Martin Deserve to Die?
To their credit, the St. Louis police department released footage of the conflict between Martin and the officer who killed him, but the tapes that do exist are not very clear and don't perfectly corroborate the officer's story (though a body cam, which the officer wore and didn't have turned on, would have had better footage...). But even if the officer's story is 100% true, that doesn't really matter. Antonio Martin didn't deserve to die, for a few simple reasons:
- The police officer had options other than shooting Martin.
- We can, should, and do hold police officers to a higher moral standard.
- Lethal force should be a last resort in all situations.
- The police officer who killed Martin made a choice, but his rationality didn't exist in a vacuum.
Police Officers Have Options.
While the killing of Antonio Martin was a choice, it was not the officer's only option. If you think it was his best, consider some of the other options he had.
#ICan'tBreathe Proves Cops Have Options
- Martin could have been "talked down." The officer could have tried to deescalate the situation without using force at all. This happens often when criminal's are white, but you don't hear about it because it doesn't become a national headline.
- Even if the officer's story proves true, and Martin proved a threat to his life, the officer should have tried to remove himself from the situation before resulting to force.
- If force did prove necessary, the officer should have first attempted to use non-lethal force, and "shot to maim" by aiming for Martin's arms or legs. It is unlikely that the officer had these intentions, as Martin was riddled with bullet holes, suggesting that the officer shot to kill.
I will admit that as a civilian, I don't have a perfect perspective of this situation, and I admit as well that the first two options I listed, to deescalate the situation and try to remove yourself from danger, are probably idyllic from an officer's perspective. But even if force did prove necessary, why shoot to kill? If Martin had already been taking shots at the officer, that's a different story, but even by the officer's own account, lethal use of force should have been reserved in this situation.
We Should Hold Police Officers to a Higher Standard.
I mentioned earlier that I am a civilian, and so can't understand what the officer was going through in this situation. But to be honest, that doesn't matter too much either, because a police officer can and should be held to a higher moral standard concerning violence than a civilian like me.
See that badge to the right? When an officer of the law puts that on, they enter into a contract with us civilians. An officer's job is to serve and protect, and act as an example for the rest of us. My friends that are saying "the officer's life was in danger, what do you expect him to do!" are projecting their own mortal fears, and not realizing that police can and should be held to a higher standard. Police are trained to react rationally, not emotionally: we should hold officer's to a higher standard than the rest of us, especially when violence is concerned. If police aren't held to a higher moral standard, our society WILL NOT operate as it should.
Lethal Force Should Be a Last Resort
I know I just covered this, but it bears reporting: lethal needs to be a last resort. It needs to be. when officers utilize lethal force as anything other than a last resort, our society suffers.
Should the officer who killed Martin used lethal force as a first resort?
When we can't trust our police officers to use every other option, and can't trust them to save their right to "shoot to kill" until there is nothing else they can do, we learn to fear our cops, and can demonize them when they shouldn't be blamed for justified use of force. The implications are big and important.
So why didn't the officer that shot Antonio Martin use lethal force as a last resort, instead of a first one?
The Officer Who Killed Antonio Martin Made a Racially Motivated Choice.
If you can admit that Martin shouldn't have been killed, and I think this is an easy enough admission as no one should be killed, especially by the police, than the question inevitably comes up: why was he shot to death?
Friends that I have talked with about Martin and police brutality in general have told me things like: "The officer made a choice, hindsight is 20/20, the officer just reacted." Or "he was probably scared."
But why was he scared? Why did he react like he did? Why was Martin shot? Well, in short, because Martin wasn't white. The officer who killed Antonio Martin reacted like he did BECAUSE Antonio Martin was a black man. Yes, maybe he was scared, but his fear was at-least partially racially motivated. You could say I am over simplifying things, but think about the counter example: if Martin HAD been white, he either would have been "talked down" as white criminals often are or shot in the arm or leg as white criminals often are, and this wouldn't be a national story, but rather a small blip on a police blotter in St. Louis that would have been picked up by a local paper or two. Yes, the officer who shot Antonio Martin made a choice, but his rationality didn't exist in a vacuum. It is easy to say that the officer reacted on instinct; it is more difficult to admit that that those instincts considered Martin to be more of a threat than a hypothetical white counterpart because of the color of his skin.
No One Deserves to Die.
No one. Especially when a cop is the killer, and especially when the person who is getting killed is greeted with lethal force BECAUSE they aren't white.
Police brutality is about lethal force; it is about officers of the law acting like examples of moral good and living up to the higher moral standards concerning violence that our society imposes upon them. And too often, police brutality is about race. If Antonio Martin were white, it is very likely that he would have been maimed rather than killed, and his family wouldn't be in mourning this holiday season. Ignoring any part of this difficult issue, whether it be the use of lethal force or Martin's race, ignores an important part of the police brutality discussion, and doesn't help us get any closer to improving our society. Yes, #AllLivesMatter, but the fact that you are more likely to be killed by the police in a situation like the one we all learned about this morning if you are black matters too, and we shouldn't ignore the racial undertones of Antonio Martin's death.