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Mixed bag of comments still shows right priorities

Post by Brian O'Neill on Oct. 31, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
November 2, 2010 11:07 am

Few stories stir up as much commentary as a police involved shooting, and Saturday night’s incident was no different.

The Tribune’s article described the scenario, which took place in the parking lot of a restaurant on the Ruston Way waterfront, using the increasingly common term, “suicide by cop.” Despite the print version appearing well off the front page, the online story generated a lengthy string of comments.

As always, the reader responses included questions both ridiculous, “was the gun loaded?” and bizarre, “did he point the gun or take aim?” Such writers, in their blithe anonymity, seem both incapable of considering an opposing view or rendering any amount of mental effort.

But most readers’ responses were thoughtful and reasonable. Many pointed out their overwhelming sadness over such a seemingly senseless tragedy, while acknowledging the societal pressures that must have weighed so heavily on this unfortunate individual. Some admitted their lack of expertise on tactical matters, and yet raised good questions about non-lethal options available. Still others recognized the fact that such a tragic affair will have a lingering and negative affect on all of those involved – especially those officers who were forced to pull the trigger and kill a fellow human being.

Regardless of the type or tone of these comments, the large number (70 as I write this) demonstrates the extreme concern people have with police officers using deadly force. Human life holds supreme value in our legal system. Should that value ever diminish, either in the courts or on the street, life for all of us, police officers and citizens alike, would diminish as well.

In the past, fatal incidents such as the one on Saturday night would have been a largely internal matter; one for the police to unravel outside the public purview. But over time, largely because of public pressure for transparency, cop shops have shed light on the policies, training and specific details that lead to traumatic events such as this one. That has been a painful process for police departments, which are bureaucracies mired in tradition and “the way we’ve always done things.” For all the frustration and second-guessing, however, some of the heartfelt and positive comments from this story demonstrate that the process of becoming transparent has been worthwhile.

The huge reader response to this sad story is proof that our community still holds human life as a fragile and priceless commodity. That fact more than makes up for so many useless comments.

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