We civilians who carry firearms for personal protection should pay close attention to the recent police shootings, particularly to the media coverage. Because while law enforcement officers operate under somewhat different rules of engagement, many of the issues involved can have relevance to us as well.
Recently, the press has gotten into the habit of almost immediately describing just about every suspect who ends up being shot by police as “unarmed”—even before any details are available. Recall the cases of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, during which journalists repeated over and over the line “unarmed black teenager” (and continue to do so even today).
But current cases have shown that even if the suspect was indeed armed, the press continues to repeat, without any corroboration, claims by the suspect’s family (and political agitators) that they were not, or that police “planted” a weapon.
The problem for you and me is that hearing the words “unarmed” over and over again, combined with the term “unjustified shooting,” tends to get absorbed into the psyche of the average citizen. The result is that the public begins to believe that one can use deadly force in self-defense only against an “armed” assailant. And these are the people who may very well be on your jury (or mine).
Many in the general public are unaware that in a self-defense case, an attacker need not be proven to have had a “weapon” in the sense that the average person would understand. Rather, it is a principle of common law that your attacker must reasonably appear to have both the means to inflict such harm, and the apparent intent to do so. I covered the various factors that will be considered by the jury in “Unarmed Doesn’t Mean Harmless” (Concealed Carry Report – August 22, 2014).
Naturally, if an assailant is armed in the conventional sense, it makes it a bit easier to convince a jury that it was reasonable to believe you were in imminent danger. Not only does a weapon support means, it also pretty clearly indicates intent.
Or at least one would think so. But it seems that the bar has been raised even higher, at least by the media. Video is now seen as a requirement to prove self-defense. But contrary to the myth that “the camera doesn’t lie” (it can), video can run the gamut from “clear and convincing” to “utterly inconclusive,” with every variation in between.
You’ve probably seen the video that shows an offender who was not only “unarmed” but lying on the ground, when a police officer shoots him with a shotgun in the back. Outrage was the consistent reaction…until a second video taken from a different angle shows the offender on the ground reaching for a handgun in the small of his back.
In the case of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, I have seen three separate TV “journalists” suggesting that, even if he was armed, since Scott “did not appear to actually point the gun at police” then the shooting “may not be justified” in spite of the fact that the released videos are so chaotic and unclear, it is impossible to draw any conclusion.
But unfortunately, many jurors will now expect that we not only prove an attacker was armed, but that he or she actually pointed his or her weapon at us. And we’d also better have a perfectly unambiguous video proving it, too.
A very disturbing situation indeed.