Murder and deadly force are different

I’ve seen murder.

I’ve seen dead bodies in cars, hanging out of cars, holding phones and other items in their hands even though they were dead, inside homes, on the street, in yards, some alone, some with loved ones nearby, murder just everywhere.

Dozens of dead bodies, all strangers, over the course of almost two decades of policing one of the most violent cities in America will forever haunt my thoughts and dreams until the day that I breathe my last breath.

I don’t recall every person who met their demise during one of my shifts, but many I do, and their last resting place before being zipped into a body bag remain vivid in my mind.


Murder is heinous and cold and brutal and unnecessary. Murder is unforgivable.

When we charge somebody with murder, we are, for all intents and purposes, ending their lives as they’ve known it, because conviction will mean a good chunk of their life behind bars, if not the rest of it completely.

Police officers are charged with protecting people and property, and in doing so, we’re allowed leeway to use force, even deadly force.

Let’s repeat that.

Police officers can use deadly force, if necessary, to do our jobs. I was given a gun by the police department to wear on my belt. I HAVE to wear it to work. It’s expected, in fact. If an officer can’t be trusted to pull the trigger on a person who threatens their own life or the life of another officer or civilian, then that person should find other work.

They will get somebody hurt or killed.

Yup, police officers can and sometimes must use deadly force. That’s just a fact. A reality of policing in America.

But we can’t murder.

It’s rare that an officer’s use of deadly force is deemed murder, so I was curious about what happened in Chicago. I wanted to see what that “murder” looked like, so against my normal habits, I watched a police related video.

I normally dislike watching police videos.

I never liked watching COPS, and I don’t enjoy police related videos on YouTube, though I’ve felt more inclined to watch them for use in my classroom. They can sometimes be useful training tools.

I watched a video of the Chicago incident.

I watched for several minutes as a police officer traveled in his car to the scene of a call with his lights and sirens on, indicating there was some sort of urgency to the call.

I’ve been there before, lots of times.

Lights and sirens on a police car mean something is going down.

I don’t know what the call was for, but the young man was clearly doing something disruptive, because at one point, when the officer gets near the scene, a resident points him towards where the problem was. People don’t normally do that, unless they’re aware of a serious problem.

The officer and others arrived at the scene where an agitated, armed man is clearly not following directions, and then he is shot, many times.

He was “murdered.”

That’s what the state of Illinois says, anyway.

That’s also what thousands of people online say.

Thousands of people who have never put on a uniform and badge or carried the weight of a bullet resistant vest on their body for the duration of an eight or ten hour shift get to spew their opinions without knowing all the facts.

They will say that the police murdered this kid. They don’t have all the facts, outside of a seven minute video, but they will get on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds and say, “Chicago police murdered an innocent boy,” and they will be wrong.

A human being who worked as a Chicago police officer used deadly force to end a person’s life.

That is what we know right now.

Chicago probably employs roughly ten thousand police officers. If that department is anything like mine, and I have no reason to think otherwise, then many of those officers are black and Latino and many are gay and then of course, many are white. Police departments are probably most large, urban cities’ best employer of minorities.

Ten thousand police officers from so many different walks of life didn’t murder that boy. The hundreds of thousands of officers in the United States not on that scene that night didn’t murder that boy.

No. Stop saying that.

One Chicago police officer used deadly force on that boy that night. And while we’re at it, let’s not pretend that he’s an angel. Be fair and admit that he was breaking the law.

He was armed, not with a firearm, but he was armed and on a dangerous drug, so he wasn’t an innocent boy shot on his way home from school or work or whatever. He was messed up on that night.

Did he deserve to die?

That is the question of the day for not only Chicago, but every city and every police department across the country.

It looks like a bad shooting to me, but I’ve not heard what the other side has to say about it. What was the officer’s reasoning?

If he says he was in fear of his life, who are you to say that he wasn’t?

Have you ever answered a call for a person high on PCP and armed with a knife? How did you handle it, if yes?

I’ve answered calls for people high on drugs or otherwise mentally out of it. They’re scary calls.

Maybe he knows this kid from prior encounters. Maybe this officer just took a training class and learned how fast a person with a knife can close a gap and put a blade into another person’s neck before the other person can react.

I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but the truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you.

Same on the other side of the argument as well. Well intentioned people who support the police are doing the same thing, spouting off that the kid had a knife and was on PCP, etcetera etcetera. They’ll say he deserved to die because he didn’t listen to the police. It’s not that simple either folks.

Hell, I’m doing it with this blog post. I don’t know what happened to a full enough extent that I should be taking sides, but I guess I am.

I’m on the side of justice. I’m on the side of the law.

It’s my hope that we don’t start seeing police officers prosecuted to assuage the masses, because that’s bullshit.

Murder in the First Degree is pretty harsh.

There is a difference between grabbing a gun and intentionally finding a target to kill and then killing him and being thrust into a tense situation because it’s your job and using deadly force because you thought you had to.

This man will have to answer for what he did, and I’m okay with that. I am glad that there was video, the police department’s video I might add. He will have to go through what he was thinking and convince a judge or jury that he didn’t murder that kid, and honestly, he might be able to, because it’s a tough case to convince a jury that a police officer murdered an armed person.

It’s not impossible, but don’t be surprised if there’s a hung jury or acquittal.

I don’t want any of this to sound like I’m justifying what the officer did either, I’m sort of thinking out loud and hopefully, giving you something different to think about as well.

At the end of the day though, I don’t want to read that police killed this person, because I am police, and I didn’t kill this person, nor have I ever killed any person.

Remember that the next time you read or hear that the police are murderers. That’s a pretty insulting comment, and I’d appreciate your support in correcting that person’s train of thought.


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16 Responses to Murder and deadly force are different

  1. says:

    So well said! Happy thanksgiving!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Elyse says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Don. I think we as a nation are often jumping to conclusions with incomplete information. We just don’t seem to have the will to dig deeper.

    Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe.

  3. gesbes says:

    Common sense right here. Too bad it won’t matter to many with an agenda (on either side of the extremes). Thank you for your perspective and sensibility – as well as your service! Stay safe and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I generally side with the police officer in situations like this, but if there’s a legitimate explanation for why he shot this guy 16 times, most of them when the guy had already fallen to the ground, and then felt the need to reload, I’d like to hear it.

    • Yeah, it doesn’t sound defensible, but I’ve never been in that situation so I’m willing to wait until I hear his version. It may well be ridiculous, but then again, he may legitimately have felt afraid at some point that this man was going to hurt someone. Let’s wait to judge is really all in asking.

  5. tric says:

    I thought before reading you might have come down more on the police side so was pleasantly surprised at such balance. That is what is needed.
    In this country we have bad guys with guns but they’re mainly gangs dealing drugs and carrying guns,which are illegal. Citizens don’t own guns and when I read of the madness in the US I’m so grateful for that. Our police don’t carry guns either only the armed response officers.
    Best wishes Don you do a tough job and I’ve little doubt, with many others do a very good job.
    Take care, stay safe and well done on showing such balance.

    • Zachary says:


      I have to ask why you are thankful for the fact that your countries law abiding citizens are unarmed when you state that your criminals are? I am the first to admit that the US has it’s issues with guns, but and this is a big but, when you ban citizens from having a means to protect themselves the only ones at risk are the lawful citizens. Last time I checked when a criminal wanted to rob, assault, and murder they do not stop because the use of a gun is unlawful. Criminals are called that for a reason, because they do not respect the laws or the people they protect. I am a police office in the same area as Don and I can tell you that I am comforted by the fact that the law abiding citizens in my area are allowed by our state and the US Gov’ to carry a firearm. The reason being is if I am on the side of the road getting assaulted or worse those are the people that may just save my life. Further, criminals will always be armed, regardless of how restrictive the laws. The average guy/gal wants to be lawful and will be to the point of undermining their family’s and their safety. So I am thankful that the US allows our citizens to be armed, a fact that allowed us to do many things other than protect ourselves from criminals, it has also allowed us to protect ourselves from enemies both foreign and domestic.

      Believe what you want, but the average person should have the opportunity to protect themselves with like force, and I refuse to undermine that.

      • tric says:

        Zachary I accept your argument and I think because guns are a part of your society we are comparing apples and oranges, but looking around me I know which country I’d feel safer in and it’s not the one with the guns in it.

    • Thanks, Tric. It’s a tricky mess over here, but I think we’re stuck with our guns. It’s a matter of figuring out how to regulate them properly and fixing many of the other woes that have nothing to do with guns first.

  6. claywatkins says:

    its always easier to see one side – the clip of the video I’ve seen is very slanted. There is more to it, as you know and point out. As a country, we need to do more to make sure folks like Laquan don’t turn to a life of drugs and crime in the first place and then things like this won’t happen.

  7. lrconsiderer says:

    I like that most of our criminals don’t carry guns. That most of our law-abiding citizens don’t carry guns. And that most of our police don’t carry guns.

    I like your thoughts, though, and your fairness and your encouragement to be open-minded. These matter, these thinks you do out loud here.

  8. Well said Don, well said.

  9. I always appreciate your perspective in things like this. There is a lot that we, the public have no clue about.

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