I like to watch mixed martial arts (MMA).  If you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, it is essentially boxing on steroids.  Any combination of techniques (boxing, wrestling, karate, etc.) are permitted, meaning almost every part of the body becomes a weapon.  Elbows and knees deliver devastating blows that incapacitate or even knock an opponent unconscious.  Watching these men (women also fight one another) go at it is an adrenaline rush.  It is brutal and sometimes painful to watch, but it is also an amazing demonstration of the human body to both deliver and withstand attack.

These fighters do not utilize weapons.  They are weapons.  To characterize them as unarmed is a deadly misnomer.

Which is why I take issue with the trend of reporting on police altercations where the emphasis is placed on whether the person(s) involved had a weapon on their person at the time of the altercation.  Take, for example this recent story.  I’m not making any judgments about the comparative guilt or innocence of either the officer or the teen.  My only point is that the headline is designed to elicit a particular response – a response of outrage or indignation that lethal force was used against an unarmed person.  A person with a gun shoots a person without a gun (or knife, or whatever).  Without any further reading or investigation it seems excessive, it connotes a level of guilt just because of a disparity in weaponry.

I’m not a police officer nor have I ever been one.  I have known several over the span of my life, ranging from rookies to retired veterans of the force.  I have no doubt that abuse of privilege occurs, just as I have no doubt that many officers are honorable people seeking to perform their duties in a way respectful of the citizens they work with.

When confronted with someone who threatens physical force, there are far more factors involved with how the officer responds than whether or not the other person is holding a weapon in their hand or not.  Unfortunately, these factors are not able to be reliably assessed in the moment of conflict.  Is the person armed or not?  It can be hard to tell.  Is the person on drugs that might mean they are not going to be affected by a wound the way someone not on drugs might be?  Has the person received training in hand-to-hand combat?

I have no doubt that in a close quarters confrontation, the average MMA fighter could incapacitate the average police officer regardless of being unarmed.  Even an untrained person could land a lucky punch or kick, even against an experienced and trained opponent.  I’d much prefer to see our press reporting on the full range of issues in the situation, not just whether or not the suspect was unarmed.

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