As I write this commentary, charges have just been filed against six Baltimore police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said, "... This was a thorough investigation to get to the right result and I believe that we did." Among the surprising charges was one of murder in the second degree filed against the officer who was driving the van in which Gray was fatally injured. These charges followed several days of demonstrations and rioting, with the National Guard called in to help keep the peace.
Another story that made headlines this week concerned a security guard at South Point casino in Las Vegas who fired a shot into the windshield of a car containing two individuals suspected of theft. According to an article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, the security guard felt "fearful,"
Security about 11:15 p.m. saw two people possibly “casing the area” of the parking garage, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Metro spokesman Michael Rodriguez said Friday. Security recognized them as possibly being involved in prior thefts at the resort and approached them, Rodriguez said. The people were not cooperative and tried to leave. At that point, security felt “fearful” and fired a round into a vehicle’s windshield, Rodriguez said. The people stopped, got out of the vehicle, were detained by security and arrested by Las Vegas police.
There are many who feel that incidents like the one at South Point casino are more common in the casino industry than elsewhere in our society. A comment made by "LVBear" to the LVRJ article underscored this opinion. LVBear wrote,
If he was so "fearful," all he had to do is run away ... The ongoing problem of out-of-control security is something the casino industry will have to deal with eventually. It has already paid out millions of dollars in avoidable settlements, jury verdicts, and attorney fees. Decent training and firing those who don't measure up to even the low standards set by the casinos would likely be a more economical choice for the casinos, and certainly the correct ethical choice.
I personally know the individual who wrote this comment. For many years, we were colleagues as advantage players. Even now, we stay in communication and I consider us to be friends. He is a keenly intelligent and fair-minded man. But, police and security guards should not run away when they experience fear. They also should not fire their weapons into windshields simply because they are fearful. The ability to assess and negotiate fearful situations is part of their job description.
LVBear's comments reflect a larger societal consensus and boiling anger about a seemingly endless string of abuses of police powers. Recent events around the country have raised serious concerns about the training of those who are authorized to use deadly force. The cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jason Harrison, Walter Scott and Eric Harris should give us all pause . Now it is South Point's turn to investigate the use of deadly force by one of its guards.
As given in the code of federal regulations (CFR 1047.7, the use of deadly force),
Deadly force means that force which a reasonable person would consider likely to cause death or serious bodily harm. Its use may be justified only under conditions of extreme necessity, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.
Among the circumstances mentioned when deadly force may be appropriate are self-defense or when there is imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to another individual.
Based on the brief description given in the LVRJ about the events at South Point casino, there is no indication that those in the car had themselves used deadly force in committing a crime. Feeling fearful is not the same as self-defense. There was no mention in the LVRJ article claiming that the officer was in immediate danger. Whether the individuals in the car posed an imminent danger to others will certainly be a central question during the investigation into the incident.
There are millions of interactions between casino security and patrons each year. With all the wild partying, drinking and other crazy behavior by casino patrons that goes on each day in casinos everywhere, there are only a handful of incidents each year where rogue officers behave in shameful ways towards casino patrons. It is not at all clear if the recent South Point incident was one of these.
Dating back to the days when the mob ran Las Vegas, the casino industry has a long history of violence. Because of its history, the industry should do everything it can to ensure its security officers are well-trained in the use of deadly force. Casinos everywhere should employ the best trained professionals to protect and safeguard their patrons and employees. The casino industry has a long way to go before people like LVBear give the benefit of doubt to the casino security officer.
Bigotry occurs whenever an entire class of individuals is lumped together under a single label and dehumanized. Bigotry has the potential to cause great harm, no matter its target. Whether citizens of a great city, patrons of a casino, or the police officers who are entrusted to keep the peace, when bad things happen, it is individuals, not classes of individuals, who are responsible and must be held accountable.