The Dallas sniper suspect who reportedly killed five police officers this past week has been painted as a sick individual with a vendetta against police. Police say that after conversing with the suspect in failed negotiators, they were unable to take him into custody and used a bomb to blow him up instead. While we recognize the tragedy of losing any lives at all, our commitment to justice and standards of accountability for state violence should lead us to ask: did they really need to use this level of weaponry to take out a lone sniper?
Reportedly, Dallas police discussed options with the suspect. They emphasize that any other possible method of apprehending him would have put more officers in danger, resulting in their decision to use a robot armed with a C4 bomb to explode the suspect. According to reports, this was the first time a police force utilized a robot controlled bomb to harm or kill an individual civilian. The use of a bomb to end a stand-off with an armed and dangerous suspect raises questions about the militarization of police in recent years and whether this was an example of excessive use of force.
In the era of Black Lives Matter, one might connect the militarization of the police force with the recent, highly publicized killings of black men by police. In fact, it was the September 11th terrorist attacks that inspired an over-militarized brand of policing in the United States. This type of policing has had consequences far beyond the “war on terror,” especially for black people and communities across the United States, as domestic crime issues are treated with excessive force.
Militarized policing further distances officers from citizens, suggesting that the communities they serve are highly dangerous threats to officers. While it is important that police officers feel safe doing their jobs, it is equally as important for citizens to feel safe interacting with police officers. The excess of military grade guns and body armor seems more appropriate on a battlefield rather than in the heartland of the United States—and such serious weaponry may promote an “us-versus-them” mindset in American police forces.
This style of militarized policing has also extended to crowd control in protests as seen in Baton Rouge this past weekend. When police treat protesters as a threat worthy of excessive weaponry and armor, it suggests that protestors are dangerous to the general public in ways that are simply inaccurate. A protest is no longer a protest; rather, it is a riot that must be controlled at all costs. This type of force used by police blunts the message of the protest and the rights of the public to use their first amendment rights, lest they be labeled a public enemy as well.
While Dallas has been lauded as a positively reforming police force, this use of a robot-bomb combination to kill an armed and dangerous suspect should give us pause, considering the context of police militarization and the utilization of military weaponry and technology to engage with everyday citizens. Hopefully, this use of force remains rare.
Photo Credits: NPR, Ron Jenkins, Getty Images