Sunday, September 18, 2005

Police Actions are Murder?

Today, Israel's Internal Affairs cleared the police officers involved in the October riots in 2000. If you remember, at the beginning of the Intifada, right after Sharon visited the Temple Mount, riots broke out around the country, and the results were thirteen dead Israeli-Arabs. The Orr Commission report criticized many members of the police echelon, but did not recommend criminal charges.

IA's report was met with stark criticism on the part of Israel's Arab and left-wing community. Many attacked IA for allowing officers to get away with "murder." Such a characterization begs the question. Murder is the unlawful taking of human life. If the officers did nothing illegal, they did not unlawfully kill. Hence they could not have committed murder.

Riots create serious operative and moral problems for police. On one hand, they are dangerous (remember Yankel Rosenbaum?). On the other hand, the police don't want to just shoot at anyone. But rioting is not a civil right and is nothing like non-violent resistance. People causing dangerous situations are threats to the safety of their fellow citizens. I have no qualms using lethal force to stop them.

I'd propose something akin to the Dershowitz torture warrant. He argues that (humane) torture should be allowed only after a warrant is procured from someone very high up in the political chain of command (i.e., the President or the Chief Justice). While I'm sympathetic to giving the Chief Justice warrant power, as such power is usually reserved for the judicial branch, I'd rather see someone accountable, and the CJ, with life tenure, can never be held accountable (notwithstanding impeachment). So I'd grant this power only to the President.

I believe the same thing should apply to riots. The police have an obligation to stop it as quickly as possible. The Mayor should be allowed to authorize a "riot emergency." Once that happens, the police are authorized to use lethal force against rioters. The threat of being shot would surely serve as a deterrent against rioters.

Does such power give the police unbridled discretion? Absolutely not, at least no more than they already have. Police can use force when necessary, and the only check is IA reviews. I see no reason why such reviews would not stop cops from shooting at random in this case as well.

Moreover, there's serious accountability. The Mayor knows it's his political skin on the line, and will not authorize a riot emergency without ample cause. So we have a political check on his power, which will keep him responsible.

I know this seems harsh. But I'd rather see rioters shot than innocents stabbed on the street while they walk.

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