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It seems like it happens every few weeks – a policeman shoots an unarmed civilian (more often than not a Black civilian) and then claims to have been in mortal terror.
Sometimes, of course, they really were terrified (police training can have the effect of making police feel like every encounter is likely to turn deadly at any moment). But every single time? But the truth is, the Supreme Court has set things up so that any police officer involved in a questionable shooting has an enormous incentive to claim mortal terror, no matter what the situation was.
(For a good discussion of this, read this Shaun King article.)
The reason the US has so many police shootings isn’t just, or primarily, bad cops. It’s a bad system – a system that makes police shootings, and the lack of accountability, pretty much inevitable. And any real solution will need to be systematic, too.
I don’t often do caricatures of real-life people, so it was interesting trying to convert Rehnquist (who was, for the record, very damned racist) into my adorable cartoon style. But honestly, when I look at the drawing in this cartoon, I see something that I hope won’t be a focus for my readers – I was experimenting with a new way of drawing shine in hair. I’m still using this method, but I think I’ve gotten a bit better at it since this strip.
A young Black woman is in a park, wearing a striped sleeveless shirt and black pants, talking on her cell. She looks angry. Behind her, William Rehnquist appears with a big “Poof!” He’s wearing black judicial robes (which sort of trail off into nothing, rather than him having legs) and is smiling benevolently.
WOMAN: I can’t believe the jury let that cop off! What is it with these juries? Are they just racist?
REHNQUIST: Don’t blame the juries!
The woman turns around, jumping back in shock. Rehnquist continues speaking cheerfully.
WOMAN: Who are YOU?
REHNQUIST: I’m the ghost of William Rhenquist! I was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court until I died in 2005.
The woman listens, somewhat bewildered, as Rhenquist leans closer to explain.
REHNQUIST: When I was on the court, we ruled that it doesn’t matter if a suspect really was dangerous. If a cop says he believed the suspect was dangerous, any police shooting is legal.
(Footnote: See Tennessee v Garner & Graham v Connor.)
The woman calmly asks a question.
WOMAN: But doesn’t that give cops a huge incentive to say they thought hey were about to die no matter what the circumstances?
The woman now appears agitated, horrified. Rehnquist answers cheerfully, giving her a thumbs-up.
WOMAN: So even if a cop shoots a 9 year old kid, he just says he was terrified and he’s in the clear?
REHNQUIST: Now you’ve got it!
The woman yells angrily; Rehnquist, puzzled, shrugs.
WOMAN: So is the Supreme Court going to FIX that?
REHNQUIST: Er… Fix what?