It has been quite a while since the U.S. Army sent me out to the firing range. Sixty-plus years to be more exact. But not much has changed. When I and my trusty M-16 went out and secured a “hut” on the firing range, the target was a cardboard human torso. No head, no arms, no legs. Nevertheless, I did well and was awarded the highest marksman badge — an Expert level if I recall (hey, it was 60-some years ago).
The thing is that for weapons training for police, that same age-old target — the human torso — is what they use for practice. Without a doubt, it is much easier to fire at a torso than it is arms or legs.
But is that what is wanted in police training? The news media has carried the police shootings of unarmed, though perhaps having a knife is classified as “armed,” people. It is almost impossible to turn to a media outlet and not be informed of the latest police shooting. Even in the case of a teenage girl threatening another girl with a knife, the police officer at the scene shot and killed her. The only training he had received was to shoot at body mass. Other people killed are almost too numerous to mention.
There have been many suggestions to rein in law enforcement agencies from acting as executioners. The suggestions or recommendations have ranged from somehow stopping systemic racism to creating a separate entity — composed of social workers or other persons trained to handle situations where the person is “confused” — to deal with mentally unstable persons. The police are there to serve as law enforcement personnel and not to serve as social workers.
Stopping systemic racism is a high hurdle, perhaps impossible. Creating a unit composed of people competent to deal with unwell individuals is easily achieved. That has already been done in a few cities.
But, neither of these addresses the problem of the police as executioners. That is a whole other thing and one that can be put into place tomorrow.
What is needed is training that does not involve aiming at a target that portrays a human torso. Throw out all of those old targets and replace them with targets that focus on nonlethal places to shoot. Sure, it is easier to shoot at a target that pertains to the body mass. To eradicate that would go a long way to reduce “suicide by cop,” where individuals are killed by police.
Police training could be adapted to award more points for hitting a target based on the human leg and a penalty for hitting body mass.
But, law enforcement personnel are resistant to this notion. Recently, I viewed a TV show featuring an interview with a retired police chief, and he restated that a target that was based on the human torso was relatively easy to hit by recruits and seasoned police officers. He concluded that it should be kept as standard practice.
By that measure, when confronted with a tense situation where a police office has only a few seconds to act or react, the only training he or she has received is shoot to kill. It really doesn’t matter if the target is a teenage girl or an unarmed Black man; they’re both dead.
The retraining focused on nonlethal methods doesn’t address the issue of chokeholds. George Floyd was not shot, he was murdered by a police who viewed him as less that human. His crime was passing an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. His case should have been handled by people capable of seeing him as completely human. That can be addressed by means other than killing.
Focusing on options that don’t involve shooting to kill would be a good start.