Thursday, December 08, 2005

A necessary tragedy

The recent shooting death of Rigoberto Alpizar at the Miami International Airport has created a lot of discussion around the office recently.

I work in an international office with people of many nationalities and cultures, and one thing's for certain: there is no universal consensus on the outcome of this incident.

Why? Primarily for the usual reason - we all have the benefit of hindsight, and a wealth of newly uncovered information.

First, let's look at the new revelations: he was sick, he was bipolar, he hadn't had his meds, his wife was yelling to authorities, he was really a very nice guy who was panicked, etc.

I have no doubts that all of this is true.

But at the same time I don't thing any of that means diddly. Why?

To understand that you have to understand the use of deadly force. Enforcers of the peace, in whatever title they carry, are instructed to pull their firearm only in cases of extreme threat where loss of life is a likely outcome. So once an officer has pulled their firearm, there is no "shoot to disarm". They have already made the decision that a death threat exists, and they shoot for one reason - to kill.

Like it or not, that's the truth of how we train law enforcement officers of all types.

But that's not a "bad" thing. That policy is what prevents law enforcement officers from brandishing weapons as a threat - and actually escalating a potentially diffusible situation. It protects more people than it harms - because a gun only comes into play at the very last possible moment. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work.

So, back to the topic of Rigoberto Alpizar. I've tried to put myself in various positions, and consider some hard questions:

What would I want done if I had been on the plane he was running from?
What would I want done if I had been in the terminal where he was running to?
What would I do if I were one of the two air-marshals demanding him to stop, and he refused?

My answer in all scenarios is the same: take him down.

Don't get me wrong, if there's anyone who regards loss of a single human life as a terribly sad tragedy, it's me.

But a man muttering about a bomb, rushing to get off a plane, snatching his duffle bag, refusing orders to stop (not ignoring them, but refusing them) and then stopping and reaching into the bag... well, in today's environment, I'm sorry but he must be taken down. There's too much at stake that outweighs the potential that he's just having a harmless fit. And he's definitely not someone who was calmly going about his own business.

And yes, his wife was yelling about him - but let's be brutally honest: many recent acts have been performed by individuals working in tandem. I simply cannot fault the marshals for not listening to her cries in that instant they had to make their fatal decision.

Sad... yes, very. But incorrect per the situation? No.

Sometimes, the right decision can still lead to a tragedy...



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