I just finished listening to a broadcast of the recent attack on 68-year old, retired Marine, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. in White Plains, NY who was shot to death by the police as they responded to a LifeAid medical alert call. A few weeks ago I followed the story of Trayvon Martin, the the unarmed 17 year-old who was shot to death by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator. These two recent incidents occurred coincidentally around the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots which was ignited by the police beating of the unarmed Rodney King.
These events have generated lots of questions, lots of investigatory inquiries, and lots of media coverage. They have raised questions of racism in the U.S. (all three victims were African-American), as well as abuse of power, police brutality, the culture of force, etc. As a psychologist I am interested in the psychological make up and training of the individuals who are hired to “protect and serve.”
In the case of Mr. Chamberlain, it was clear from the audio and video tapes taken at the scene that Mr. Chamberlain mistakenly had pressed the button on his LifeAid medical alert device which he hung around his neck ever since he had a heart attack. It was clear that he was a harmless senior citizen. It was equally clear that the LifeAid respondent told the police that their presence was no longer required and that Mr. Chamberlain was not in danger. I could hear Mr. Chamberlain yelling through the closed door to the police who were attempting to break down his door with axes and crowbars that he was fine and that he was not in any danger or in need of their services. Nonetheless, the police continued to break in, used their tazer gun on the victim and subsequently shot him to death.
Here we have four, strong, young, and well-trained police offices facing an unarmed, old man with a heart condition whom they were unable to subdue, even if it were necessary, without killing him.
I am a student of the martial arts. One of the key principles of my training has been to only fight when absolutely necessary and to use only sufficient force necessary to subdue an attacker. I am 75 years old; I imagine even I could have subdued an attack from a 68 year old man with a heart condition without killing him! Here we have four trained, strong, young police officers with billy clubs and a tazer, who had to use a gun not just to wound, but to kill.
Were they so poorly trained that this was the only way to diffuse a situation? Could they not have walked away? Could they not have simply tackled him if necessary? Could not have simply wounded him if they felt they were in harms way? What was the urgency to enter the apartment? Where was the imminent danger? I would raise similar questions regarding George Zimmerman and his attack on Trayvon Martin and LAPD’s beating of Rodney King.
The officers in all three of these instances abused the power and trust invested in them by their position as protectors. They showed their lack of judgment, lack of personal discipline, and moral failure. They showed their overwhelming, irrational fear that was so easily stimulated by a single unarmed suspect. They showed their tendency to bully, making themselves feel powerful at the expense of a weaker suspect.
Are these the type of personalities that are recruited to be in positions of power? How are officers chosen? What characteristics are valued by those in charge of recruitment and training? They were obviously not chosen for their capacity for exercising restraint, foresight, and good judgement. How are they trained? Clearly they were not trained to develop the inner discipline required by the martial arts. Surely they were not trained to think first; they just acted upon their own emotional inadequacies without thinking of the consequences. Poor judgment, lack of foresight, fear, impulsiveness, poor planning, low self-esteem are personality characteristics of abusers, not a protectors.
[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica - Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a friend on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating "like" on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]