What if… There was a Better Way to Stop the Dallas Shooter?

  • July 14, 2016

We have all heard about the violence in recent weeks, in which police killed two black men during seemingly routine traffic stops, and a sniper took aim at police officers in a Dallas protest.  Much has already been written about these incidents and the atmosphere of racial tensions from which they arose and to which they contribute.  We should all examine our parts in this continuing tragedy, but in this post I want to examine another important point that is in danger of being overlooked.

By all accounts, the Dallas Police Department is a model force in building trust with the community, through transparency, communication, and outreach efforts.  However, in the aftermath of the sniper attacks at an otherwise peaceful protest, one must question the use of a robot-delivered bomb to kill the suspected sniper, Micah Johnson.  After several hours of negotiation with Johnson, the decision was made to deliver a lethal load of C-4 explosive via a remotely controlled robot, thereby eliminating further threat to police officers and other citizens.

Was the use of deadly force relevant?

Although the need for rapid action was, and continues to be obvious, the question of the ethics of use of deadly force is also highly relevant.  Why were less lethal means not used?  Were they even considered?  Presumably, if C-4 could be delivered, so could have a load of non-lethal mace or concussion grenade that could have rendered the suspect temporarily immobile, thus allowing the police to apprehend him at greatly reduced risk.

Two primary questions seem relevant in this and similar situations.  The first has to do with the decision to use deadly force—a final, irreversible action.  Killing someone eliminates all other options.  The second question relates to the rule of law.  By taking Micah Johnson’s life, the police took away his right to due process of law, acting as judge, jury, and executioner.  At the time of the decision, the police thought Johnson might have accomplices.  Killing Johnson eliminated any possibility of finding out anything about that from him, or any potentially mitigating evidence.

It is all too easy to criticize actions taken in the heat of the moment, without the “benefit” of being immersed in the situation.  I acknowledge those very real, legitimate concerns.  But unless we ask if there isn’t a better way, we are condemned to replicating past, perhaps flawed actions.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by UNIBusiness or the University of Northern Iowa.

What if... There was a Better Way to Stop Dallas Gunman, Micah Johnson

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