August 22, 2015 by The Jailhouse Doc
I see a lot of inmates who have been injured by police, and the truth is I never know the exact circumstances- are there rough take-downs? Sure. I mean, if you run from the police you’re going to be chased and doing things the “hard way” isn’t going to be a gentle as the “easy way.” I’ve seen it all- from scrapes and bruises, to torn tendons, to gun shot wounds, to inmates breaking both feet after jumping out of second floor windows to try to escape capture, to far worse.
With all the controversies this year surrounding young black men being shot by police, I think this issue is pretty complicated. Most people might think that if you run, you’re going to get banged up in the take down and that’s your own darned fault- you might even get chewed up by a police dog. But what about more serious injuries? Does running from the police justify being shot at? And what are the deciding factors? Should it matter what “crime” you may be accused of? For example, if you’re running from a routine traffic stop vs if you’re running because you’re an accused murderer, does that then justify more force? In both cases, the accused hasn’t even had their day in court yet.
Many injuries result in full recovery- more than a few times I’ve wagged my finger at a few lucky ones and in exasperatedly said “For Pete’s sake, don’t run next time!!” To which I typically get a chuckle and “I know, I know!” BUT, I have been involved with a handful of cases now in which injuries received are extreme- and result in disability. Now this is complicated by the fact that some injuries are not inflicted by police but other drug dealers, etc. But whose responsibility is the long term care of people who are disabled during their arrest?
This may not seem like something we should “care” about – if someone broke the law, and they’re injured while getting arrested, well that’s life and too bad. But we’ve seen a lot of examples of violent arrests that have led to death and I think that people are asking- what level of violence is justified? Most of the press surrounds deaths, but there are a lot that go unseen by public, and these are the ones that I see. Those who end up in the hospital for weeks to months, some paralyzed, some with long recoveries, some who never fully recover. They are often in legal and medical limbo. They can’t go to court if they’re incapacitated, yet court would decide whether they’d be sentenced or released. Many stay incarcerated, handcuffed to hospital beds, when if they were able to make it to court they might get released to their families. And those who be handed down tough sentences, what about them? Where do they go? And who pays for their expensive medical costs?
Well how it is right now, the taxpayer foots the bill in most cases. In costly incarcerations, medical expenses, and in the emotional and economic loss of family members who are killed. Let’s consider that most offenders are from poor neighborhoods, which have very high unemployment. Many are already on government assistance for food and insurance. Debilitating injuries ruin even affluent families financially, imagine how devastating it is for poor families to have a potential bread winner become disabled. I have seen inmates in wheelchairs discharge to broken homes, to be taken care of by elderly mothers who already have financial problems and addictions, entirely unprepared to care for someone with physical disabilities. So what follows is that the family is increasingly stressed, strapped for resources, and dependent on assistance.
On the individual level, does breaking the law also ethically justify receiving a life-altering injury? On the macro level, we lambast poor communities for being dependent on the government yet we don’t provide enough jobs and job training to help get people out of poverty and able to provide for themselves, then we shoot them when they break the law, further inhibiting them from ever working, and rendering them MORE dependent on the government, which we then resent.
Even if you didn’t emotionally care for the injuries offenders sustain during and after their crimes/arrests, this is yet another example of the financial drain that our current law enforcement practices and justice system has on our country, in addition to being one of the many players in impeding any progress in alleviating the burden of poverty in our country.
Again, I am forced to ask, what is justice? What does it mean to “get what you deserve?” Do we see the irony in the satisfaction we get out of offenders being injured, but then righteous anger at the financial burden that paying for these practices puts on our own pocketbooks??
The only option is to find new, more creative ways to conduct law enforcement. Community policing, and using the least amount of force possible to handle a situation. Just because you are acting within the law to shoot somebody doesn’t mean you SHOULD.