Tuesday, January 15, 2019

When is it Justified to Use Violence?


I was trained to hurt people as a United States Marine during a time of war.  It is a skill I no longer have reason to employ, but nonetheless remains an asset always available for potential use. I have perpetrated violence upon others and have been on the receiving end as well. I believe there are circumstances when extreme measures are appropriate to bring about a swift resolution to a life or death situation.

As Americans, many of us enjoy violence and condone torture when it comes to dealing with doers of evil, but we keep it to ourselves (because it is not politically correct to condone it). Look at the movies we watch. We cheer when our heroes torture the bad guys. Dirty Harry. Charles Bronson. Denzel Washington in Man on Fire. It is easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys in the movies. But what about in real life? Are the police always good guys? Are all suspected terrorists bad guys? Not so clear!

The problem with those granted the authority to use force, there is always a potential to take violence too far. How far is too far? When does it become abuse? When does the good guy become the perpetrator? When does the bad guy become a victim of abuse? Attorneys General have argued that torture is okay. The military has always used torture against prisoners of war. The Supreme Court has ruled that evidence acquired through torture is admissible in court, so it must be okay... at least some of the time. Prominent civil rights attorney Alan Dershowitz has proposed using torture warrants, so at least we can be more open about it.

Police brutality seems to be increasingly charged against officers exercising unreasonable force against fugitives and suspects. Is it okay to beat the shit out of someone to acquire vital or timely information? Perhaps mostly the answer is "no", but in the heat of the confrontation it all boils down to the officer's judgment call. Who are we as jury and judge to say he or she was wrong?

I am always alert to opportunities where force might need to be used in day to day situations. If I can walk (or run) away or talk myself out of a threatening situation, I always chose that option. When my life or the life of another may be in question, then the rules of engagement change. Is it worth hurting someone to save a life? Always. No exceptions. Should I worry about being charged with aggravated assault for hurting someone who was threatening to do egregious harm? To save a life? I don't think about it.

I like to give peace officers and the military the benefit of the doubt in matters of extreme violence and torture. There are times removed from our lives of comfort where security officials must use coercion of the physical sort to acquire information to protect or save others. They have been given the authority to do so, but cautioned to exercise restraint when at all possible. There are evil people in the world that deserve to be brought to accountability, but they don't all wear black hats, and the good guys don't all have white hats. Misjudgments occur more often than we'd like, but I believe for the majority of official confrontations we the public may question afterwards, the ends generally justify the means.

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