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February 9, 2012

When Preserving Life and Protecting Life are in Conflict



*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Sunday, February 12, 2012

I believe we all agree that there is nothing more valuable than human life.

But if we were to engage in a deeper and more philosophical discussion, we would find that there are different beliefs on what constitutes the value we attach to life.

That value is derived from our own belief systems and the way we see the world. The way we see the world is culminated by our experiences. The struggle between pro-life and pro-choice is a perfect example of belief systems that are at odds.

So is the fact that we attach value with different ideals. Is a heart surgeon’s life more valuable than that of a homeless person? If you had to take a life to save a life, would you?

In January 2010, one of our police officers was faced with that dilemma. He was off-duty and had just picked up his 13 year old daughter from school. As he drove down the street, he witnessed a male with a gun, chasing and shooting at a group of kids. The officer immediately exited his car, told his daughter to get down, drew his weapon, and gave several verbal commands to drop the gun. When the suspect pointed the weapon towards him, the officer fired, killing him. The officer later learned that the shooter was 15 years old.

On Feb. 1, Calumet City police officers shot and killed a 15 year old after the boy lunged at an officer with a knife, striking him. The distraught family members called the officer a murderer saying their son was autistic. The officers were criticized for not applying less lethal force that might have stopped the 5’10”, 220 pound teen.

In either of these scenarios, what would you have done with mere seconds to decide? If you had to save yourself or another innocent person from a gun-toting or knife-wielding aggressor, even if it meant taking his life, would you?

Fortunately, you need not spend much time contemplating this dilemma because the odds of finding yourself in one of these scenarios are highly improbable.

Sure, in the scenario involving the Aurora Police officer, it could have been you that pulled up in the path of the gunman. But as a citizen, your responsibility is to observe and report; and let the trained experts put themselves in harm’s way.

That is precisely what our police officer did: he confronted the threat and stopped the shooter before any innocent lives were lost. With his own life and that of his child’s at risk, he did exactly what he was trained to do.

The media is masterful at sticking microphones in the faces of distraught family members and others screaming out against police officers. Don’t misunderstand, when an officer commits misconduct, we all should be outraged, but when an officer has had to make a decision to preserve life by deploying deadly force on a violent aggressor maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge lest we have the ability to put ourselves in that very same scenario.

I sometimes wonder if the rest of the world envisions cops high-fiving each other in the locker room after one of these horrific scenarios. I was there the day our officer had to shoot the 15 year old and there was no celebrating. Behind the badge is a human being that will never be the same because of his own inner-conflict. The values that taught him to preserve and protect life were at a crossroads.

I doubt many give pause to think of his strife or that of any police officer who has had to live with the decision to take a life in order to save one.

It isn’t an easy decision – even when it’s the right one.

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