I’ve been watching people die. A lot.
But don’t worry, it’s only in videos.
I’ve been thinking of getting a license to carry a concealed weapon. I’m not planning on packing heat any time soon, but it seems like the sort of thing where, if the need ever arises, I’ll want to be ready. The State of Illinois training requirements are oriented around legal and safety issues, but they don’t really address how to use a gun in a fight, so I decided to do some research on using a gun in self-defense. And that’s how I found John Correia, his Active Self Protection (ASP) training organization, and a whole lot of videos of violent incidents.
Correia’s training approach takes advantage of the age of ubiquitous video. He and his staff have analyzed videos of thousands of real-world uses of lethal force to build up an evidence-based body of knowledge of how these incidents play out it real life. Almost every day, they post one of these videos of a violent encounter, followed by commentary from Correia and other people, in which they pick apart the incident and draw lessons.
I’m bringing this up because one of the recurring subjects of this blog is police violence, and that too is a topic of Correia’s videos. Videos of lethal force incidents involving ordinary citizens are hard to come by, but lots of cops use dash cams and body-worn cameras to record everything they do, and this is a rich source of material for Correia to analyze, often accompanied by former cop and federal agent Mike Willever. Although focused mostly on tactics, they also discuss the legal and ethical issues of lethal force in police work. I think these reviews are great resource for those of us concerned about police violence to better understand how and why police shoot people.
I’m going to link to some of these videos below, so I need to discuss them a bit. And out of concern for you, my readers, I need to start with this:
Trigger Warning (Seriously)
I should also note that Correia has an irreverent style that can seem jarring, considering the subject matter. He’s kidding around with his co-hosts, promoting his products and sponsors, and making jokes about dead bad guys “taking the sidewalk temperature challenge.” At first, his breezy patter seemed inappropriate and frankly disrespectful of the suffering and death. But now that I’ve been slogging through these videos for a few weeks, I realize that his sunny presentation is exactly what I need. It provides some breathing room to gain emotional distance from the subject of the videos.
Seeing so many police shootings all at once ended up reinforcing something I’ve believed for a while now: Many of these police shootings, even the ones that make me angry, are justified in the moment.
When I say the shootings are justified, I mean that they qualify as legitimate self-defense under the usual standards: The officer had a realistic, no-bullshit reason to fear for their life.Contrary to popular criticism, it’s not enough for the officer to assert “I feared for my life.” The legal rule for self defense requires that the fear be genuine and for reasons that would make normal people fear for their lives. Someone pulled a gun or a knife or was beating them down so bad they thought they, or some innocent third party, were going to die or suffer great bodily harm. That’s the only time cops can legitimately use lethal force.
As you’d hope for in a non-totalitarian country, many of these shootings are pretty clearly legitimate. Here, for example, is a fairly routine video of cops questioning a guy who starts shooting at them. They shoot him back. (That one’s not too graphic, and everyone lives.)
Some videos show cops doing genuinely heroic things with great courage, such as these Green Bay police officers in 2021, bravely and skillfully teaming up to hunt down an active shooter. Or see a lone officer dropping an active shooter with a single 40-yard shot from his standard-issue Glock with iron sights. And here’s the team of cops who recently hunted down an active shooter at a school in Nashville. These are the things we imagine cops doing when we give them guns and ask them to protect us.
Every time someone gets killed, it’s an unfortunate result, but often it’s necessary to kill someone to stop them from committing great harm, as when this group of cops hunts down a murderous active shooter in a mobile home park in Normal, Illinois, or when these Denver cops kill a guy who’s holding a hostage at gunpoint.
But many police shootings have a lot more gray areas, especially when the person getting shot has some kind of mental illness or emotional disturbance. Here’s a very unpleasant video of cops trying to serve an eviction notice on a woman who seems to have some kind of mental problems…and a large knife. They end up shooting her dead, and she almost takes an officer with her. And if that’s not terrible enough for you, here’s an awful video of an emotionally disturbed man shot by police after acting threatening with a knife. It looks like a legally justifiable shooting to me — police were responding to calls for help from his family members, and he was charging at people with a large knife — but he seems more ill than evil, and the cops ended up killing him in front of his wife and mother.
That last one looks a bit like suicide-by-cop — goading the cops into killing you as a method of killing yourself — but he may not have been thinking that clearly about the result. Here’s a much clearer case of suicide-by-cop, where a troubled young man with a large knife approaches police, asks them to kill him, and eventually works up the nerve to force their hand by charging the police line. And here’s another variation, with a guy who’s walking down the street pointing a gun at random people until he attracts the attention of the police. He then walks out into the street and turns on the cops, forcing them to gun him down.
You can find a lot more of these videos at the Active Self Protection channel on YouTube. In addition to more police shooting videos, there are videos of civilians defending themselves, with and without firearms. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In each case, Correia reviews the video and discusses pertinent tactical issues of self defense.
Sometimes the videos just show people being victims of violent crimes, and the discussion is about how the victim could have defended themself or avoided the incident altogether. Sometimes the videos just serve as a reminder that evil people exist, and that they don’t think like the rest of us. A few videos just show the consequences of unsafe gun handling.
If you really want to get serious about studying violence, you can subscribe to the Active Self Protection website and have access to a whole lot more videos, including an extensive selection of training videos. If you want, you can also watch some shooting videos that are too violent to get past YouTube standards.
Which brings me to my second warning: The videos I link to here may be hard to watch, but they are not the worst videos I’ve seen from ASP. Some of the videos teach extremely hard lessons. If you’re not sure about a video from the description, it may help to read the comments first to decide if you really want to watch. There are a few that I just don’t ever need to see.
Speaking of the comments, the usual rules apply. Although many people respond with compassion, and some supply additional thoughts and information, there are also the usual assholes. You’ll get racist comments about criminals, misogynistic comments about female cops, and a fair number of people who take great joy in the deaths of criminals and thank the officers for everyone they shoot.
Finally, if any police officers happen to read this, and you made it past my opinions to this point, here’s a fun little video to remind you of the importance of securing suspects before you put them the back of your vehicle. The real oh-shit moment comes at the one-minute mark. And after that, you deserve to watch a video of Las Vegas police handling a sudden hostage situation where everything — the tactics, the gun handling, the marksmanship — is perfection.
As I said at the start, I think these videos are a useful resource for those of us concerned about police violence. In my net post in this series, I’ll try to draw some lessons about why police shoot people.
Update: Part 2 is up.
|↑1||Contrary to popular criticism, it’s not enough for the officer to assert “I feared for my life.” The legal rule for self defense requires that the fear be genuine and for reasons that would make normal people fear for their lives.|