It’s the litany of a familiar scenario. A policeman requests identification from an individual on the street, a juggler well-known to locals, performing in a crowded intersection. The busker declines to comply and an argument ensues. The police fire two shots at the feet of the performer who, it is claimed, rushes toward the officers with something in his hands. Two shots to the chest follow and the juggler is dead.
The police claim the suspect had a machete in his hand while witnesses from the crowd say it was a tin sword prop for the busker’s act. Destructive mobs storm government buildings burning them to the ground. Minneapolis? Los Angeles? New York City?
No. The town is Panguipulli, a small municipality of 33,000 folks in South America, in southern Chile. The incident followed a number of similar questionable police interactions over several years that resulted in national protests. In Latin America, such protests against government actions are often expressed by the banging of pots and pans in public (a cacerolazo, or casseroling). The protests called for substantial changes in police training and procedures, an all-too-familiar refrain heard in the United States.
A Chilean government minister asserted that police use their weapons only as a last resort in self-defense. In typically ambivalent, protective (translated) government-speak, the official stated:
We regret something like this that is unexpected in a police procedure, that a person dies and the carabineros had to use their weapons.
One may interpret the subtext as communicating that rights and lives are expendable. . . .
The official’s statement is an opening for advancing qualified police immunity in Chile. Despite the fact that Panguipulli is about 5,500 miles from NOVA, it is surprising to learn that distant community experiences with policing reflect such stunning similarities. Whether repressive or not, governments tend to rely upon similar policies to ensure that law and order prevail. Virtually every community operates with a police presence ostensibly extant for the purpose of protecting the citizenry. When that objective is distorted by incidents of police shootings of individuals, the very core of the public policy for police is brought into question. It is the identity and rationales of the official responses that must be of concern. The absence of empathy – substituted by “regret” – hints loudly of inhumanity and dismissal of the governed, and of prioritizing control over de-escalation.
One may interpret the subtext as communicating that rights and lives are expendable or, at least, subject to serendipity in interactions with police. As there have been no effective resolutions to these circumstances in the United States, none, it seems, may be expected from or in foreign nations as exports or imports. Worse is the sense that the United States has exported its difficulty with policing along with its broader foreign policy of peace. That is sad commentary upon civilization. As long as people are congregated in social environments, conflicts will almost inevitably arise. Outcomes, however, are something that lend themselves to more rational behavior and results. A few lines from a well-known folk song express the predicament:
How many deaths will it take till we know / That too many people have died?
It is distressing to consider that the answer continues to blow in the wind, beyond our grasp but existential to our experience. Same old, same old, in these circumstances ought not to be considered or received as an acceptable social value merely because it is catholic. Its ubiquity across hemispheres is a signal of a failing that leads to fatalities caused by fellow citizens.