America’s military veterans suffer from suicide, drug dependence, homelessness at higher rates than the rest of the population. Why is that? Ostensibly these men and women are initially selected because they possess better than average mental and physical toughness, ambition, aptitude, teamwork skills. Even enjoy a supposedly elevated social status relative to their non-serving peers. What happens during an often brief 4 year enlistment period that changes them?
Journalist Christopher Moraff is embedded in the front lines of the drug war. Specifically Philadelphia’s low income neighborhood of Kensington, the epicenter of Philly’s opioid crisis. Like every journalist, he deploys with the standard issue pen, notebook, and camera in place of a side arm. Christopher however takes his journalistic battle kit to the next level. He doubles up on mini-grenade like vials of overdose reversing Narcan and enough drug test strips to fill a bandolier. His most powerful weapon is his empathy and willingness listen to anyone. Especially the most vulnerable, ostracized, battle damaged victims of this decades long drug war which currently has transitioned into an increasingly deadly fentanyl phase of destruction. He wins his battles by telling their stories, documenting their soul crushing plights.
Hoping to bring attention and understanding to one of these seemingly disposable veterans. Christopher documented one encounter with a recently thrice-incarcerated, drug-dependent, home-less, car-less, money-less, job-less, hope-less, American military veteran. It certainly caught my attention:
It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of dehumanizing suffering involved in this brief twitter thread but what Christopher described in the last tweet is what viscerally shook me.
“Thank you for your service.”
There is so much behind that peculiar momentary reaction the veteran displayed after receiving this platitude. This uncomfortable appearing response is not uncommon. If what these men did was so honorable and heroic, why this reaction? Christopher didn’t know why the veteran reacted strangely.
What this disposable veteran exhibited was moral injury. What is moral injury? I’ll let Iraq War Marine veteran Tyler Boudreau tell you:
“Moral injury is about the damage done to our moral fiber when transgressions occur by our hands, through our orders, or with our connivance. When we accept these transgressions, however pragmatically (for survival, for instance), we sacrifice a piece of our moral integrity. That’s what moral injury is all about. Moral injury does not replace post-traumatic stress. It works alongside it.”
We are all well aware our prosecution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been oppressive, excessively wanton, resulting in the infliction of suffering and death on undeserving populations numbering in the millions, Whatever you think about the initial justifications, the results are ultimately manifestly unjust. By ‘serving’ in the Iraq war, Afghan war, any other innumerable unjust endeavors, you damage yourself by participating in the immoral perpetration of violence against others.
How do I know this? I experienced this same moral injury here at home in the war on drugs as a cop. Some of what I did even though perfectly legal, expected of me, and done with my own good intentions, was in fact immoral. Many of our laws are in fact immoral. Legal does not equal moral. Not only did I inflict unjust and unnecessary harm on others enforcing such laws, I suffered internally because of this as well. For a long time I couldn’t quite understand why. I had injured my own moral fiber, my very being. Many former cops and veterans have confided in me feeling this same uneasiness when thanked for their service by a well meaning public. This is difficult to admit.
When you commit an unjust act, you are an unjust person. There are unavoidable spiritual consequences for this.
Individuals suffer moral injury and emotional trauma when they harm or help perpetrate unjust harms against others. Even if you incorrectly assumed your actions were right at the time, the fact remains another human being suffered unjustly at your hand. There will be an accounting. Orders, government laws. badges, uniforms, good intentions will not shield you from the consequences of this fundamental moral principal.
Wrongly kill another man, his spirit survives. With that same act however, you self-inflict a mortal wound to your very spirituality that only true repentance, undeserved forgiveness and God can heal. You actually suffer more than the man you kill. And shamefully by your own hand at that.
This is an inescapable fact of humanity. You don’t have to kill anyone. Any violations of another man’s right, however slight inflicts enormous spiritual damage. Even the lowest supply clerk who never fired a shot shares culpability for they chose to participate and assist in the infliction of harm.
No doubt this veteran suffered permanent physical harm when he was injured, emotional trauma futilely trying to save his gruesomely burned brother in arms, and personality altering distress by merely existing for extended periods under the constant threat of violence and death. Each is damaging enough. Yes, complex socioeconomic factors and personal choices also play a part in this man’s current predicament.
Again, this does not completely explain why he stiffened up though.
All of that suffering, all of that trauma, is made more unbearable, completely soul destroying. Because deep down in his gut he knows it was unnecessary, not heroic, worse in furtherance of an unjust purpose.
If you ask him about this, he may deny it. I wouldn’t be surprised. Self-inflicted moral injury is difficult to comprehend and accept. We have all been fed a bunch of patriotic propaganda to disguise it. Many soldiers, and cops, don’t understand it. You don’t want to understand it. To do so is to utterly destroy your own ego. So, they just…hurt.
Understand there are malevolent individuals: politicians, financiers, academics, crony-corporatists, who cloak themselves in respectability in an attempt to control this world by getting others to do their bidding. Such as invading and occupying foreign counties and oppressing our own citizens. Unlike you, they have a very good understanding of how morality and culpability is distributed. Now they have no problem speaking clever deceptions, but notice how they never get their own hands bloody? They don’t want that liability. They get you to do that for them. They manipulate you with fear, media, officious documents and proclamations, traumatic events. But ultimately by you choosing to carry out their orders that ‘choice’ puts much of the culpability on you.
These ‘leaders’ need you. They enjoy mocking you and feed off your suffering. They know you are strong and formidable men. They can’t let you entertain the idea you don’t need them. You would quickly overpower them. You don’t even have to turn against them. Simply walking away would ensure their defeat.
How do leaders deceive us? They distort the meaning of words like honor and service and obedience, spread fear, indoctrinate the masses, and put you safely on their payroll. Proud soldiers get upset hearing this, angrily retort “Don’t blame me, blame the politicians. I had good intentions and was just following orders!” No, you chose to follow those orders and by doing so assumed the underlying malevolent intent.
You also allow yourself to be deceived. There is a certain comfort to letting others make decisions for you. And it’s fun wielding power, smashing stuff, blowing things up, driving fast, kicking in doors, shooting guns. These guys give you permission when no one else will. No, your recruiter doesn’t tell you: “We want you to compromise your morality and rip people’s flesh apart for evil’s sake.” It is twisted into the familiar trope: “We want you to do the tough job only the strongest men can do. You know, for FREEDOM.”
Then, like this veteran, once his usefulness as an enforcer in their Military Industrial Complex is complete, they throw him away, a broken man. Now only useful as fodder in their Prison Industrial Complex.
Our Afghanistan conflict where this veteran violently subjugated others in order to ‘protect us’ is the longest war in U.S. history. Thousands of American military of men have rotated through over the years.
Under American occupation Afghanistan miraculously produces 90%+ of the world’s opium. That opium somehow makes it to our shores infesting every single neighborhood from Kensington Philadelphia to Kensington San Diego. Reaping huge profits for those in on the scheme but destroying our very society one OD at a time. ‘Law Enforcers’ at home destroy even more lives in order to ‘protect us.’ Think that is some conspiracy theory? Let historical facts remove the scales from your eyes. Start with the Opium Wars and Iran-Contra cocaine. You think this doesn’t continue today?
At least the Afghanistan conflict had some initial basis in legitimacy. The Iraq war had nothing. Its casus belli was destruction for destruction sake.
George Orwell wrote in 1984:
“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”
This is intentional. Directed and manipulated by a few for their own evil, profit and control purposes. And they use you to do it.
All military members who put their boots on the ground in furtherance of these wars bear the scars of the resulting moral injustice This is why you have such high rates of PTSD among military and is so difficult to treat. A great portion of the PTSD in these men is self-inflicted moral injury from harming others wrongly, unnecessarily.
US Veteran’s Affairs does not explicitly address moral injury. They at least admit it exists in the short article on their website, “Moral Injury in the Context of War.” While helpful and partially truthful, there is an intentional bend, obfuscation, and definite minimization to their explanation.
The magnitude of the immorality and injustice inflicted on others by our government and military can never be admitted and therefore never properly treated. To do so would be to admit the laws, orders, missions, entire wars, were for unjust purposes and therefore completely immoral.
These soldiers can never heal unless we first recognize the entirety of the injustice we asked them inflict. No, it was not heroic. Yes, it was in fact wrong. Each and every man bears some individual culpability.
This may seem harsh. But excusing the injustice, falsely claiming it was heroic or honorable, denying these men have personal responsibility, prevents their own healing and redemption process.
What do we do about this? We help this man, and the thousands of others like him heal. More or less drugs / legal or illegal is not the answer. While it needs to be addressed, that only treats the symptoms.
For the love of God stop making more morally damaged men.
Stop “serving” in unjust wars. Stop “just following orders.” Your own humanity depends on this.
Stop letting some politician or malevolent elitist do your thinking for you.
Use your God given Free Will and choose right from wrong for yourself.
Best way to treat moral injury is to NOT inflict it upon yourself in the first place.
This post by a schoolteacher is what he is referencing:
That’s just one squeamish teacher right? Take a moment to watch this ABC report:
Huddled School Children Subjected to Mock Shooting Massacre by Police
A large seemingly enraged cop, suited up in black like a demonic spawn of Jason Vorhees and Darth Vader. “I’m gonna kill everybody. No one is getting out of here!” As he barges in to a classroom and fires a pistol at kids who had been ordered to huddle subserviently and await their simulated massacre.
School lockdown/shooter drills are intentionally traumatic and an intentional mass social control mechanism. Children’s so-called ‘protectors’ methodically, repeatedly traumatize (for their own good of course) break them down, instill learned helplessness. Creating future generations of fearful, more obedient subjects.
Does this seem far-fetched? Some people replying to Mr. Plaff’s thread likened these drills to cold-war era duck-and-cover exercises. Cold War propaganda is a great example of how this works:
Government, Military-Corporate Industrial Complex, intelligence agencies, media, social research academia all arrayed massive resources to subject their own domestic populace to a full-spectrum fear-based propaganda campaign. Not so much to resolve the real US-USSR conflict but to maximize and perpetuate the antagonism as best they can for their own financial, power expanding, malevolent personal and social order purposes.
Duck-and-cover was just one small aspect (hey, kids you must stay hyper-vigilant at all times cause as soon as you see a flash you better cower and hide under an open desk or you will be instantly vaporized.) Laughably useless against a nuke but it sure does make a fearful impression on a malleable mind.
All of this helped our parents convince themselves to accept and actually believe in the ‘necessity’ of a previously unthinkable global militarily presence the world has never seen. Coincidentally this just so happened to be massively profitable and power enhancing for the spheres of influence who were most involved. This highly influenced conclusion was passed on to successive generations and accepted as normal.
Still not convinced you or your parents were highly manipulated? Then why do USA and Russia still have enough nukes to guarantee the same instant world annihilation from a generation ago yet you don’t hear about it so much anymore?
Trauma infliction and fear mongering as a means of deceptive social control is as old as humanity. Most people know this is true but at the same time adamantly deny it goes on today, that they personally have been affected by it, or fail to comprehend the encompassing magnitude of it’s size.
Your ‘protectors’ have moved on to other inflated hobgoblins to menace you with. The players change, tactics are tweaked but the strategy remains the same: Taking a sliver of a real threat and emotionally manipulating you into giving up your liberty, unjustly infringing on others, directing your response efforts in directions that maximize their benefit, not your best interest. All the while you are convinced these thoughts are yours alone.
Yes it continues today. Random machine gun toting school shooters are just one of many exploited memes. This time you have government-industrial complexes of law enforcement, education, mental health, media corporations, politicians, all clamoring to “do something.” By the way that’s the same groups who have done the most to destabilize our society in the first place. These ‘solutions” all of which conveniently will expand their budgets, power, control also diminish individuals’ power, personal responsibility and liberty. Funny how that works.
Even well-intended (or maybe not) advocacy groups on both sides like Everytown for Gun Safety pushing for gun confiscation and NRA’s pushing to turn schools into armed prison-like fortresses fuel the false dialectic. Both solutions are catastrophically counterproductive.
Today’s duck-and-cover tactic is now hyper-realistic lockdown/active shooter drills. Complete with with real, imposing armed cops, alarms, banging like a deranged killer on doors to room full of of kindergartners huddled in the dark. Simulated shootings overload their senses, gun barrels pointed at their eyes, earsplitting shots, acrid burnt gunpowder, authority figures yelling commands. Kids instructed to hide, cower, or run out with their hands high in the air lest they get shot by mistake. Pupils are reminded to inform on any classmates who present even a hint of instability.
School safety is a real concern, and there is some logic to preparation but mass shootings are statistically infinitesimal. Even then, they are more a symptom of an already destabilized culture and society not necessarily a cause.
Don’t forget it is the overt social control institutions of the Department of Justice and Department of Education who design, promote, fund, otherwise ensure the implementation of these tactics. These two virtually unaccountable Federal behemoths raison d’être is to impose it’s version of society through the use of violence and compulsory indoctrination. For your own good of course.
Very highest levels of bureaucracies, politics, psychology and social academia, governments, crony-corporations attracts highly functioning psychopaths. They don’t think like you but they know how you think. And have successfully manipulated the masses for decades.
Sure these drills play only a part in the current social and culture creation. But history demands you comprehend:
Traumatizing young minds, installation of fear, fatal hopelessness, personal dis-empowerment, push to rely on bureaucratic authority figures to save and protect you through the use of these lockdown/shooter drills; rather than an unfortunate side-effect, IS the actual intent.
Are these men really going to shoot someone over a dispute where some pipe will be put in the ground?
Police at Standing Rock:
Professionalism requires deescalation on your part. This dispute is in no way worth you injuring or killing a protester or getting harmed yourself for that matter. Even if you think your position is legally justifiable.
Your militarized response however righteous you think you are (you may be) has only served to increase the danger and harm to everyone in the community you have sworn to protect. You are not in some life or death battle trying to hold a tenuous beachhead at Normandy thinking the fate of the free world lies in your steadfastness.
It is easy to look back in history and see how our government, law enforcement, and corporations have often repeatedly conspired against disenfranchised peoples. As members of those same organizations today. You, an armed government agent, (rightfully) carry that stigma. Maybe you should reflect for a moment and imagine how your tactics today enforcing edicts from these same historically oppressive powers will look through the lens of history.
Everything these Wounded Knee soldiers/law enforcers did was legal
Alas your violent actions will be shown like all the other times to be equally unjust.
Who exactly are you “fighting” for? The billionaire Energy Transfer Partners CEO? Notice he is not putting himself personally in the position to shoot a water defender or get harmed himself. Neither is the North Dakota Governor. How about any of the Federal bureaucrats, government judges, lobbyists that crafted these documents, even President Obama. They are not willing to put their own skin in the game, but easily give you “orders” for you to unthinkingly obey and implement.
It is you, the individual police officer, that will be bear the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burdens of the harm you inflict on others in furtherance of this unnecessary conflict. Others will reap the profits. When the inevitable excessive force and abuse complaints arise, those same “leaders” will quickly do an about-face and throw you to the crowds to be torn apart. It won’t be them. Speaking of profits, honestly ask yourself, would you be on that front line if you were not getting paid.
You may think the protesters are wrongheaded. But even you understand the vast majority are standing up as well-intentioned stewards of our land and water, and to exert their rights of self determination as native people that have been abused and marginalized under similar conditions for hundreds of years where “laws” were “enforced” as a tools of oppression.
Everyday police across America terminate high speed pursuits of real criminals when the danger of the situation outweighs the interest of immediate “justice.” It is a proper, well-reasoned response to the reality of the situation. No one would infer you now supported that criminal.
Incidents where police deescalate are prudent and do not tarnish the “rule of law.” In fact they serve to burnish the professionalism of Peace Officers.
This is not like you are letting some crazed ax murderer get away only to slaughter more innocents. We are talking about a dispute over where some dang pipe will be put in the ground. Is that what you are going to shoot someone over?
I’m sure there are some officers that are convinced these protesters are an early wave of unconventional warfare terrorists looking to turn America into some eco-communist state. Well, your response so far is certainly turning us into a violent fascist police state. That is on you. I’m sure global elites would not mind either outcome. Don’t fall into their trap.
You’ve seen pictures like this in your history books. Ever considered them to be the “Good Guys?” Officers, why do you think you are any different this time?
Soon you will be facing a contingent of veteran United States military and police members that have voluntarily deployed to Standing Rock. These men and women lead by USMC and Baltimore Police veteran Michael A. Wood are from your same tribe. The tribe that swore to serve and protect others. Do not fear them. Secure your sniper rifles, pistols, “less lethal” guns, grenades, and gas. Your weapons are not necessary and are counterproductive to the community’s interest in deescalation. Use this opportunity to show good faith on your behalf.
Return to your rightful place in society as keepers of the peace, not militarized oppressors.
Fellow police officers, show everyone your integrity, professionalism, compassion and stand down at Standing Rock.
-Raeford Davis @RaefordD is a Former Police Officer Turned Freedom Advocate.
It definitely struck a nerve with some folks and I got a little push-back. If you adjust the numbers by population, China has about 4 times more people. It doesn’t look good for the US.
The US prison population is 2.2 million. We also have about 5 million people under some type of probation or parole at any one time. Police in the US kill around 1000 citizens annually. 1200 in 2015 alone.
China officially incarcerates 1.6 million individuals, but that number is certainly under-counted and is probably over 2 million. The highest incarceration estimate in China (unsubstantiated) I found was 4 million. That includes all types of political prisoners, pre-trial detentions, forced labor camps, etc.
Yes, it is unknown how many people China executes a year. Annual estimates for the last few years are between 5,000 (2010) and 2,400 (2015.) For comparison, the US executed 35 people in 2014. That kind of evens out the killed by police rate. Hey, at least China gives them some kind “Due Process” before putting them in front of a firing squad.
That is still HALF of our rate of incarceration in the US. Adjusted for population, China would have to incarcerate 8.8 million, and kill 4,800 just to EQUAL the US rate.
Frankly, I think the12 killed people by China’s police in 2014 is accurate and may be better documented behind the Bamboo Curtain than imagined. In 2015, that number went up to about 50 people killed by police. They killed 28 of those people at one time in an “anti-terrorist” operation. China has 1.7 million cops and have been unarmed for decades (so is the general public, so there’s that). They are just now issuing a few guns to police. It is quite controversial and publicly discussed.
The incidents — which have generated widespread media coverage and social media buzz — come after authorities decided in April to issue guns to patrolling officers to better protect the public and improve police response to crime and attacks.
The trigger seems to have been a brazen attack by a group of assailants who stabbed 29 people to death and wounded 140 others in train station in the southern province of Yunnan. Officials blamed the attack on extremists from the western Xinjiang region.
For decades, Chinese police were unarmed because the country has very little gun violence and firearms are hard to obtain. The change leaves Britain, Norway and New Zealand among developed countries where patrolling police officers generally aren’t armed.
“Broadening the right (to carry guns) to more police officers could bring more harm than good if they do not follow the laws,” said Liu Zhirong, an independent scholar who was once a researcher at an elite Chinese military police academy. “Police must learn to minimize use of force.”
The Public Security Ministry has the daunting task of training hundreds of thousands of local police on how to handle a deadly weapon in the line of duty. The Chinese police force is 1.7 million strong, and it isn’t clear how many will be armed. In Shanghai, about 1,000 of its 40,000 police began carrying standard-issue revolvers during routine patrols in April.
Experts worry that the training will focus too much on technical aspects, such as firing accuracy, and not enough on psychological and legal aspects, such as when to draw the gun and how to quickly size up chaotic situations.
“I even wonder if some police officers have ever seen a gun,” said Hong Daode, a professor of criminal law at China University of Political Science and Law. “We are
basically starting from zero.”
Before they can take aim at a suspect, police are required by law to identify themselves, issue verbal warnings and shoot into the air. If they do fire at a person, they are supposed to aim for non-vital body parts.
Notice the actual, rational concern expressed from those commie, freedom hatin’ Chinese about their newly armed police becoming excessively violent and a danger to the community. By the way, a cop in Foshan, Guangdong province has already killed a bystander with one of those “warning shots.”
Some say I’m trying to compare apples and oranges with China and America’s justice systems and it can’t be done. China’s orange to America’s lemon would probably be more appropriate. Both are citrus fruits and both are rotten. America’s is incredibly sour to the point where it is almost inedible, even to those that have grown accustomed to its taste.
Note to anyone that thinks America should disarm its public so “our cops don’t have to face a different [higher] threat of lethal violence.” Exactly how did China achieve that result? Only by killing thousands for years in those Great Leaps Forward. I’ll pass on that. As a cop, I had little fear of the millions of peaceably armed citizens. I do think many individual’s obsession and reverence for guns is often misguided and counterproductive. If there is any group that takes that obsession and reverence way too far, that would be men who tote a gun and carry a magic talisman tin star they claim gives them extra rights and special immunity from responsible gun use.
I know, this is totally against all of that American Awesomeness we were taught from kindergarten on and is upsetting to be confronted with. But…here we are.
It is not okay to shoot and kill someone to enforce marijuana prohibition. It does not matter that you are a cop. Your badge does not shield you from fundamental principles of morality. Law enforcement officers must understand this and stop killing people unjustly.
Levonia Riggins was ingloriously shot in his own home, suffering an undeserved gruesome early death. His family are now traumatized and grief stricken in a manner that you would never wish on anyone. They will never have true happiness for the rest of their lives. The deputies involved, especially Deputy Caleb Johnson who made the conscious decision to pull the trigger and end Levonia’s life, will never sleep soundly again.
The Tampa Bay Times dutifully printed an all too common boilerplate news report of the incident:
“A Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy fatally shot an unarmed man Tuesday morning as a SWAT team raided a Clair -Mel area home looking for illegal narcotics, the Sheriff’s Office reported. The raid yielded a small amount of marijuana, the agency said. “Levonia Riggins, 22, had been the subject of a monthlong drug investigation, sheriff’s Maj. Chad Chronister said at a news conference.
“When investigators arrived at the house at 1432 Longwood Loop with a search warrant about 8 a.m., everyone inside came out except for Riggins, the major said. Others who left the house told deputies Riggins was inside, most likely in the rear, sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said in a news release. That’s when Deputy Caleb Johnson, 32, a seven-year veteran of the agency, entered the house with fellow SWAT members.
“‘After making numerous commands for Riggins to exit the residence, Deputy Johnson visually located Riggins in a bedroom, at which time Johnson perceived Riggins as an immediate threat and fired one shot, striking Riggins,’ Carter reported. “Riggins was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he died.”
According to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office undercover deputies allegedly bought marijuana (undoubtedly very small amounts) from Levonia twice in the prior month. That along with a year old report about a gun at the home was enough to trigger the deployment of Hillsborough’s SWAT team to “execute” a search warrant of the home shared by Levonia and his family on the early morning of August 30th — a search warrant for a plant which they falsely label a “narcotic” for additional fear effect. This bears repeating: it was a search warrant, not even an arrest warrant. The SWAT team used a loudspeaker to order the residents out of the home. Three adults and a child came out of the house. Levonia did not. Not based on any particular safety concern but a fear Levonia may be flushing his weed down the toilet, SWAT members escalated the situation by bashing in Levonia’s bedroom window. There they find him still in his bed, under his sheets. Not defiantly waiting to ambush them with an assault rifle, but merely waking up. Any mildly experienced policeman should expect this, even after their loudspeaker announcement. Reacting like you expect anyone who is woken up by his window being smashed and staring down the barrel of a weapon pointed at you by an angry gunman yelling something like:
Levonia gets out of bed and is promptly fatally shot by Deputy Johnson. Ostensibly because Levonia moved his hands towards his own waist.
Deputies search the home for several hours and find no gun and 2 grams of marijuana.
I’ll go ahead and agree to the stipulation that everything the Hillsborough SWAT team did that morning up to the shooting of Levonia was legal. Marijuana is illegal even if for totally unjustifiable reasons. They were acting on facts known to them. They got a search warrant from a judge. That search warrant is an actual order commanding them to execute the search. They surrounded Levonia’s house armed to the teeth like Delta Force and smashed their way in (speed, surprise, violence of action.) That is standard procedure. Not withstanding it is well known using militarized special forces tactics for little more than anything other than a hostage/active shooter is unnecessary and actually increases the chance for violent confrontation and harm for all involved. Levonia didn’t comply fast enough so they had to eliminate the threat. All done following Sheriff’s Office policy and procedure, Florida state law, U.S. federal law, and the Constitution of the United States of America as dutifully interpreted by The Supreme Court. Just because no gun and only enough weed for one joint were found in the home doesn’t mean Levonia had the right not to be killed. The continuing investigation, conducted by the very organization that murdered him, will likely conclude Levonia was up to some kind of no good. Even if it doesn’t, the deputies were still acting in good faith.
Interestingly, the Sheriffs Office isn’t even bothering to claim the deputy “thought he saw a gun,” or that the deputy’s own gun “went off” accidentally. Voulusa county deputies murdered Derek Cruice under exact same circumstances last year and got away with it, so why not?
So how can the deputy’s actions be legal yet still be murder? To focus on the few moments around the shooting or the “legality” of the raid blinds you to a larger fundamental issue.
The deputies failed to question the most important aspect of their actions before they even began.
When is it morally acceptable to use force against another man?It is never morally acceptable to initiate violence. Force can only be used as a response to violence (self-defense of yourself or others.) We all inherently know this from a very early age but unfortunately spend our lives unlearning it especially when it comes to “government” exceptions.
Conducting violent marijuana raids on an individual’s home is immoral. Hillsborough county deputies were the ones that initiated violence when they decided to bash Levonia’s window, enter his home while he was sleeping, take any of his possessions that interested them and shoot him dead because he gave the merest perception that he may resist. Levonia Riggins had not initiated violence against anyone. Possessing or participating in the voluntary exchange of goods (even if you think it is a generally harmful mood altering substance) is not a violent act.
If Hillsborough deputies were serving an arrest warrant on Levonia for say murder or armed robbery they would be justified in their presence at his home and use of force to arrest him. Even then, the actual shooting is unjustified.
To defend the deputies by saying they did not shoot until after Levonia resisted and threatened them is incorrect. Imagine an armed robber shoots and kills a jewelry shop owner and then claims self-defense because the store owner looked like he was going for his own gun. Police are on the same moral ground when conducting marijuana raids.
But marijuana is bad you say. If someone brings marijuana into your home or business against your will, you are welcome to drive them out with a whip. Getting cops to whip people on their own property for adult, consensual marijuana use or trade make you the criminal. Police involvement concerning harms associated with marijuana should be minimal at best and are already covered by other, just laws. I’m not asking you to support marijuana use, I’m asking you to end your support for violent prohibition enforcement.
You may believe government agents, unlike a common robber, had a lawful right to be in Levonia’s home and seize his belongings. Lawful right does not give you moral right. Morality trumps statutory law every time. Slavery, Japanese interment, forced segregation were just as immoral when they were legal. Do you really think out of the millennia of man’s existence that you just happen to live in an era where EVERY government law is moral? Keep in mind we have 99,999 laws on the books in America and the world’s highest rate of incarceration by total number and population percentage.
Even the deputies recognize another “drug dealer” or any other citizen, would not have the moral right to steal Levonia’s weed and shoot him if he resisted. If the deputy on his own time, neighbors, strangers from across town, myself, a minister, even a hundred pious ministers don’t have the moral right to violently invade someone’s home with the intent to rob or steal marijuana how did the police get it? Police claim that special right was given to them by “we the people.” But here’s the problem, people didn’t have that right in the first place so how are they able to confer it on the police. Answer: they can’t. Sir Robert Peele listed this as one of the 9 fundamental principles of policing.
“PRINCIPLE 7: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
Your badge does not give you extra rights. In fact, if professionalism and honor means anything to you, men and women who swear to serve and protect should hold themselves to a much higher standard of conduct when using physical force against others (especially lethal force) than a very basic standard of morality and decency.
Martin Luther King Jr. articulates the difference between just and unjust laws:
“I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
King is only addressing the following of unjust laws. Actually enforcing an unjust law is much worse.
It is the individual police officer’s actions against his fellow man that actually brings the harm of unjust laws into physical manifestation. A government statute is only ink and paper. Individuals damage their own spirituality and moral fiber when they harm others unjustly. This is an inescapable fact inherent to our humanity. A tin badge, uniform, politician’s decrees, good intentions will not shield you from the consequences of violating morality. “Just following orders” or “It’s the law” is no excuse.
Just as he pulled that trigger and sent a bullet fatally piercing though Levonia’s flesh, Deputy Johnson dealt a mortal wound to his very own spirituality that only true repentance, undeserved forgiveness and God can heal.
Should he be charged and convicted? Of murder or manslaughter? Either would be appropriate. I truly hesitate to subject anyone to our legal system hoping to get justice. If he is charged, it will be for the wrong reasons. 1. Only because he didn’t see a gun on Levonia, not because he shouldn’t have been conducting the raid in the first place. 2. To cover for the Sheriff’s Office leadership. They will sacrifice him to the public to protect themselves. Every deputy in the raid and every member of the SO in the chain of command up to Sheriff David Gee are culpable. They will use the excuse: Yes we sent you on an impossible mission to enforce an unjust law, gave you terrible training and issued ignorant procedures that guarantee this type of outcome. But you pulled the trigger. 3. A perverse self-justification of a corrupt legal system led by a prosecutor blowing with the wind of public outcry. See… the system worked. Not withstanding that Levonia is still dead. And our militarized, fear-based, drug crazed Law Enforcement system will march on only with almost imperceptibly less vicious rules of engagement.
What would it accomplish to throw Deputy Johnson in prison even if he deserved it? He genuinely thought what he was doing was “good” and righteous consistent with the horribly wrong but popular conventions in America today. Restoration and rehabilitation is what is demanded here. Prison will produce neither. I would love for deputy Johnson and others to understand the unjust harm they caused and ask for genuine forgiveness, perform penance and restitution to the family. Go, and sin no more. Let me be the first to beg for mercy on his behalf. I have less sympathy for the Hillsborough Sheriff leadership, government prosecutors, judges and politicians that gave those orders to kill. Let them taste their own “justice.”
I am certain the deputies would receive infinitely more undeserved forgiveness and compassion from Levonia’s family than any Florida prosecutor would show a poor, black, nameless young man if the roles were reversed.
All of this is difficult for me to put into print. No cop, including myself, is any different than Deputy Johnson. It could have easily been me killing someone in a similar manner. I am a former police officer. I participated in several raids like this one and arrested scores of people on drug charges. Like most cops including the men in this incident, I always wanted to act with integrity, help others and “do the right thing,” I understand now by blindly following orders enforcing morally unjust “laws,” I unwittingly committed legal yet immoral acts of aggression against others in the performance of my duties. Even when no one is killed or injured, the mere act of seizing a person’s marijuana, cash, locking them in cages or forcing them to pay a fine is the same as theft, kidnapping and extortion. All of which are immoral acts.
Even if you don’t care about some drug dealing “thug” At least care about the men that are unwittingly destroying themselves morally and spiritually on your behalf.
Furthermore, this “Drug War” for practical purposes doesn’t even work, does not prevent crime or keep kids away from it, makes communities and police less safe, was racist in its inception, destroys liberty and ensures a police state.
Fellow cops, stand down, stand up, and speak out. How can you fear speaking out when a man is killed unjustly and a “good cop” just like you trying to “do the right thing” has his life destroyed as well.
End your participation in the enforcement of unjust marijuana laws, drug warrant SWAT raids, civil asset forfeiture and aggressive enforcement of other non-crimes.
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