When officers with the Brooklyn Center Police found that Daunte Wright's tags were expired, surely there was a way to make him aware of that—and get the problem fixed—that did not involve armed agents of the state physically confronting him. Do police need to conduct so many traffic stops, particularly for relatively minor violations? Every time there's a stop, it raises the risk of violence and tragedy, because it creates an opportunity for confrontation and misunderstanding. It raises the temperature. It's one thing if a person is swerving all over the road, posing a threat to himself and others, but this was not that. Maybe these officers did not feel they were given discretion on how to act here, but they should be given that leeway by policy in every jurisdiction. We should end any incentives, like quotas, that lead to more traffic stops. In general, we should encourage police officers to let more suspects get away.
This is alien to the American psyche, where decades of popular culture—and probably a whole lot more—have instilled in us the cops-and-robbers vision of life. Every criminal is John Dillinger, to be chased to the end of the world by some relentless agent of the state who doubles as an emblem of order in an otherwise chaotic existence. There are dangerous criminals who must be taken off the streets immediately, but most interactions between civilians and police are incredibly mundane. It's just that when you're Black, the chances of it going from mundane to deadly are far higher, and it seems to take no time at all. Did Daunte Wright really become a menace to the public in the time it took for them to run his name in the system? Did they even really need to turn to a physical confrontation when they found he had a warrant out for missing a court date related to a misdemeanor gun charge? Could they not have offered him the chance to turn himself in, contact his lawyer, collect himself over a longer period of time than whatever it took for them to walk from their own car to his?
By the time the handcuffs were going on, and Wright's amygdala kicked into gear and he lurched back to his car to flee, and the shouts of "Taser!" rang out, it was already too late. The situation had already escalated—been escalated—from a routine stop to a highly volatile situation. Unless there is reason to believe someone is an immediate threat to himself or others, we need to scale back the involvement of police. There are other ways to get in contact with people and make them aware of their obligations under our system of law than sending someone with a gun up to the driver-side window. Not everyone must be taken into custody on the spot. Sometimes, when you know you can find someone later and there's no reason to believe they'll do something terrible in the interim, it makes more sense to let them get away. Whether police or the people they answer to are ready to allow that to happen is another story.
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