These are the sorts of stories that drip, drip, drip across newspapers and websites and underscore fears that something is very wrong with law enforcement in today's America.
Robert Earl Lawrence was turning in a stray cat to a Dothan, Alabama, animal shelter. For some reason, he had to show I.D. before he could leave the cat. Rather than pulling out a driver's license, "he instead showed paperwork that identified him as a sovereign citizen and, therefore, not bound by federal, state, or local laws."
The workers at the shelter called the cops, arguments enusued, and Lawrence was shot in the stomach, dying several hours later that day. From Raw Story:
Prosecutors said Lawrence had obvious anger issues and often expressed anti-government views.
He pleaded guilty earlier this year to making harassing communications in connection with threats he made in January 2013 to the State Department of Human Resources, and he served 90 days in jail in that case.
Investigators said he had been angry with the department in connection with a child custody dispute….
Two women filed protection orders against Lawrence this year after he allegedly choked one and threatened another.
Hat tip: Eric Dondero's Twitter feed.
The details above (including the whole "sovereign citizen" business) paint a brief but compelling portrait of an preternaturally angry man who would not be slow to talk back to cops or escalate a confrontation.
Yet that explains very little, especially when there's a dead body on the floor. Leaving aside the bizarre (to me, anyway) requirement that you show a government I.D. to drop off a stray cat anywhere, this is a major WTF: If cops can't defuse this sort of situation peacefully—or with something well short of lethal violence—they don't deserve to be wearing badges.
Police across the country have been dealing with a seemingly endless series of police-brutality reports that call into question their training, temperament, and commitment to civil liberties. The recent protests by New York City cops—turning their backs on the mayor at the funeral of a slain policeman, booing him at a swearing-in ceremony, and engaging in work slowdown after marches and demonstrations against the death of Eric Garner in police custody—show law enforcement in an extremely negative light.
They may think it's unfair, but it's really up to the police to step up and change public opinion by acknowledging concerns rather than dismissing all critics as anti-cop.
As I wrote in a Daily Beast column from earlier this week:
The NYPD—and cops more generally—have a public relations problem in the wake of the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and a long string of other cases. Acting like a bunch of high-school jocks protesting a ban on keg parties isn't exactly going to win over many hearts and minds. It's exactly the inability of the cops who killed Garner to restrain themselves that bothered so may of us who watched the video of the encounter. The same goes for the hysterical overreaction and escalation of force used against protesters in Ferguson over the summer….
As [NYPD commissioner Bill] Bratton and the NYPD start talking among themselves, the commissioner will do well to paraphrase [the] Trumanism: "The buck stops here." The police cannot ultimately control public opinion unilaterally. What they can do, though, is acknowledge that a change in their attitudes, behavior, policies, and willingness to engage in discussions about how people see them can help them win back the public trust.