Commentary

Ron Jacobs: Killling unarmed people is murder

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Jacobs, a library worker and writer whose most recent books are “Daydream Sunset: 60s Counterculture in the 70s,” and “Can We Escape the Eternal Flame?” He lives in Winooski.

Police killings of unarmed individuals are murders. Pretending otherwise is, at its core, giving police an unrestricted license to kill whomever and whenever they want. Tangentially, providing such a license seems like it would attract those who desire to have a license to kill to the profession. I like to think the latter possibility is not the intention of those who hire and defend law enforcement employees. If police truly are here to protect and serve the community and all those they encounter are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, then there is absolutely no reason unarmed civilians should be killed by law enforcement, much less in the numbers they are killed in the United States.

Very recently, a young unarmed man was killed by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy near the Winooski community center. I won’t pretend the dead man was without his faults. He had had run-ins with the law before and was known to Winooski officers. However, that alone is not a reason to kill him. Heck, when I was in my 20s in the 1970s, I had a number of run-ins with the police, including a couple of times when they took me in because I “looked like a suspect.” In other words, my hair was long, I was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, and I had been arrested for smoking marijuana before. I looked like a hundred other young men in the neighborhood I was arrested in. I ran a couple of times but was never shot or even shot at. My point in relating my experience is simple: I believe that today’s police are trigger happy and do not care about the rights of those they are pursuing.

In regards to the killing of Jesse Breshaw in Winooski by the Franklin County deputy, I have a couple specific questions. The first is:

• Why was the Franklin County sheriff even there?

• Why was he allowed to join the pursuit if he is?
More importantly, why was he the one who killed Breshaw, especially since he was out of his jurisdiction?

• Was there a previous history between Breshaw and Deputy Palmier, perhaps from Palmier’s time on the Winooski force?

In regards to the broader question of why do law enforcement personnel kill so many unarmed people, my questions are more general.

• Why are they trained to shoot to kill?

• What in their training makes them so trigger-happy?

Another, more existential question regarding the tendency of police to shoot first and ask questions later (or never, if they can get away with it) is this:

The fact that law enforcement does not appear to see suspects as either having the right to life or the right to a trial says to me that they are not police officers, but military forces trained to kill anything that moves.

 

What makes them see every individual who fits one of the profiles they are obviously taught as criminal? Secondly, why do they believe their perception means they can murder that person, even though they have not been fired at or otherwise attacked?

It seems to me that law enforcement should be taught that even those whom they believe to be criminally involved have rights that should be respected. Besides the basic human right to life, one of those other rights is the right to be afforded a trial. When police murder suspects, at the least they deprive those suspects of those human and civil rights. The fact that law enforcement does not appear to see suspects as either having the right to life or the right to a trial says to me that they are not police officers, but military forces trained to kill anything that moves. The fact that so many police have served in combat zones where they could kill anything that moved is something that needs to be looked at when hiring new recruits. The fact that police act this way in their own nation and community is indicative of a police state.

That’s not what we signed up for.


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  • Stephen Trahan

    Just looking at the headline of this story, I’d like to ask the writer if he thinks partial birth abortion is also murder?

    • Kathy Callaghan

      It is. It’s the taking of a human life.

  • Bill Rowe

    It seems that in today’s police forces ‘failure to show your hands’ is grounds to be killed by police.

  • Bruce Watters

    And what are the statistics on how many killed were unarmed? Do you have a figure or just liberal unfounded BS. You seem to think they shouldn’t shoot if they haven’t been fired upon.0. I notice you say murdered and not killed kind of tells you your mindset doesn’t it. And not one word about how many officers are killed in the line of duty. Don’t you think police have civil rights also? Looks to me just a cheap way to get your books known. Innocent until proven guilty unless your a cop, right.

  • Kim Hebert

    First of all I doubt many library workers have found themselves in a life or death situation. If they did they would understand how this is possible and justifiable. Does this library worker know that 10% of law enforcement officers who are murdered are killed with their own guns? Do you wait until you are overpowered by some non-compliant meth head twice your size? You have one second to decide, he is coming at you and you are alone. Your training kicks in and you shoot. Are you a murderer or are you defending yourself?

    • Did you read the commentary? My question is why are they trained to fear those they have profiled and why are they trained to shoot to kill even when there are no weapons displayed? Also, the fact is that the cops are hired to arrest people suspected of a crime, not sentence them to death. People who excuse cops and their killing ways might see it differently when one of their loved ones is shot by a trigger happy officer. Side note–don’t you find it interesting that the cops in Jersey arrested an armed guy wanted for setting off bombs without killing him while a out-of-jurisdiction deputy killed a man who might have had a warrant but didn’t have a gun?

      • Jim Candon

        They are not trained to kill; they are trained to STOP a threat which he apparently did.

        • David Bell

          Yes, by murdering an unarmed man, who apparently was considered a threat to a heavily armed one.

          Nice use of a euphemism though.

    • nobody was shooting except the deputy

  • One sided and biased commentary. Mr. Jacobs…what do you think when police are killed by riff raff, with long criminal records, who are released because of liberal sentencing policies?

  • I will attempt to answer some of your questions:

    Why was the Franklin County sheriff even there?
    A: He was attempting to locate the individual who was wanted on a warrant for a previous crime
    • Why was he allowed to join the pursuit if he is?
    More importantly, why was he the one who killed Breshaw, especially since he was out of his jurisdiction? A: There is no “Jurisdiction” restriction of police officers in Vermont; an officer has the same powers of arrest where ever he/she are.
    • Was there a previous history between Breshaw and Deputy Palmier, perhaps from Palmier’s time on the Winooski force? A: Irrelevant
    In regards to the broader question of why do law enforcement personnel kill so many unarmed people, my questions are more general.
    • Why are they trained to shoot to kill? A: Officers are not trained to “shoot to kill”. Police officers are trained to stop “the threat”.
    • What in their training makes them so trigger-happy? A: No response to ridicules question

  • John E Pierce

    When anyone fails to obey an authority like a police person, they are “diss” ing the authority. In some quarters, that is sufficient reason to kill the disser.

  • FINALLY the black congressional caucus marched over to the Justice Dept to demand JUSTICE! What took them so long? Not until Trump called them out for accepting the status quo were they shamed into action. Police are hired to arrest people suspected of a crime, not sentence them to death. Well said, Ron.

  • Paul White

    All you cop haters and Monday morning quarterbacks are welcome to sign up for he job, if you think you can cut it, and put your money where your mouth is. After you’ve found yourself in a few “shoot/don’t shoot” situations then come on back and tell us how easy it is to make those life or death decisions in a split second.