Taken from a Facebook Live on March 15, as spoken by Brian T. Dunn.
I’ve always hated the term trigger happy because I don’t think any officer is ever feeling joy when they pull the trigger. But I do think that questioning why they are trigger happy refers to a concept that I like to call discipline. And discipline keeps us from doing the first thing that comes to our mind. Discipline can save almost any encounter if it does not need to be violent. And discipline and restraint are things that are going to play themselves out in the field, depending on how an officer responds to a situation. A lot of times what you might see, and again, I don’t want my comments to be taken in a vacuum, like it’s one person’s wrong. There’s never one person that is only at fault. The officer involved shooting is a dynamic encounter. And it usually involves each person demonstrating some type of behavior that is provoking the other person. And it’s like it feeds on itself. If you look at it in terms of physics, one thing raises the anxiety level to here, and then that thing that raised the anxiety level to here raises it back up to here. And it’s like a set of dominoes that completely move themselves toward this fatal encounter.
But the reason why the concept of trigger happy is relevant is because the officer does not have to take the bait. The officer does not have the escalate the situation. If you’re in a male female relationship and the man or the woman says something to incite anger in the other person, the other person doesn’t have to respond. And the situation doesn’t have to go where it would ultimately get there. The only issue is that when you talk about a human dynamic, and when you talk about what happens between people that are involved in basically an enclosed environment, you’re looking at matters of energy and physics. And discipline in an officer will not only save the officer’s life, but it will also increase the ability of them to solve crimes, because a lot of these dynamics do not have to be escalated.
There is a video that I saw which illustrates these comments very directly. And I might say something that you might not think a civil rights lawyer will say. This is an encounter where a person was in Boston and he was being pulled over for no reason, no objective reason. The officers were obviously looking for someone that wasn’t him and he turned on his camera. And what you basically saw for about a 10 minute period was the officer was asking the person, “Are you this person?” And he was like, “No, I’m not that person. Why are you asking me this? Why are you bothering me?” Now again, that’s not necessarily the most wise way to respond to law enforcement. He says, “I’m bothering you because I’m looking for somebody. And why do you have a problem with the way that I’m bothering you? Are you going to tell me what I’m going to want to know or what?” He’s like, “Why? Why do I have to tell you this? I haven’t done anything wrong. Is this just because I’m a black man? Is that why you stopped me?” He’s like, “No. But why are you out?” And then the officer takes it to the next level and he says, “It’s 12:00 in the afternoon. Why don’t you have a job? Why are you just here? Why aren’t you working?”
And then basically it goes higher and higher and higher. Now, there’s no use of force, there’s no shooting. But I found that conversation to be incredibly instructive because what it basically says is you have two people that have been taught to not like each other, by society. You have two people on both sides of this that probably have a lot of misperceptions about the other person. And you have two people on both sides of this who are now self righteous and who believe that their self righteousness should prevail. And you also have two people who are not going to back down. And so you look at this and you say, “Why does this happen?”
As a civil rights lawyer I look at it and I think, “Well, there are a million things that officer could have done to just stop this.” But there are also a lot of other things the man with the camera could have done. You had a level of disrespect that was going on both sides. Now again, who’s right and who’s wrong to me is always less important than understanding why things happen the way they do. Justification of right and wrong always happens later. And this type of situation, could it have turned into an officer involved shooting? Perhaps. But what you have to look at is the energy that’s involved. And shootings physically can break down to an escalation of energy that goes higher and higher and higher and higher to the fatal end. And if you look at how it is that these dynamics of cultural insensitivity, how it is that they raise this possibility, you always have to understand that they don’t happen in the moment, they happen before. And sometimes many years before. But it doesn’t mean that we aren’t able to curb the tide of it, but it’s going to have to work in terms of everyone understanding ways that they do not have to take a situation to the next level.