An ABC News article showed a photo of two guns, one of which is a toy, while the other is a real gun. The point of the photo is supposedly to illustrate how hard it was to distinguish the two. The article goes on to say:
“the officer facing a suspect carrying what appears to be a gun often does not know if it is real or fake,” the report said. “Worse, the officer will know that if he guesses wrong, that may be the end of his life.”
This is used to justify police shooting at people preemptively when it is not clear whether someone is carrying a real weapon or an object that just looks like a weapon. This justification is wrongheaded, because it implies that it is better for a police officer to kill an innocent person than to wait and risk his own life in the process. The reason is this:
One of the primary reasons why we, the taxpayers, pay the police is to compensate them for risking their lives so that they can protect our lives. Risking their own lives is part of the service that we are paying for. If a police officer is not willing to expose himself to a higher level of risk to protect the lives of civilians, including those who may be carrying toy guns, then he is failing to provide the basic service that is part of his job.
I am a teacher, and the service that I provide to students is education. That service implies that I am held to a higher standard when it comes to communication and interaction with students compared to some random Joe on the street. I am supposed to lead by example and thus teach. That’s part of my job. On the other hand, a random Joe’s job is not to teach, so he can, for example, respond to an insult with an insult, to disrespect with disrespect. But, if I start behaving like a random Joe on the street, then why am I getting paid to educate people? I am clearly not educating them in that case.
This is why, for example, my pride or my emotions in general, are less important than the emotions of my students. I am not paid to express my emotions. I am paid to educate people, and if that means that I need to sacrifice my own comfort to do my job properly, then that’s a natural part of the service I need to provide.
We can apply the same argument to any job. For example, a baker works at night to provide us with fresh bread in the morning. The baker sacrifices his sleep because that’s the natural part of performing his job and providing us with the service for which we are paying. A firefighter risks his life to save the lives of others. A truck driver does not see his family for weeks so we could eat fresh lettuce from California. A construction worker works in cold and in heat so we could move into our new home when we want to. The list goes on and on.
My point is this: If the key service that you are providing to others, and for which they are paying, requires you to increase the risk of getting shot, then you either accept that risk or quit your job and do something else. Not everyone is willing and able to risk his life to save others, and that’s ok, but it’s not ok if a police officer is not willing and able to risk his life to save others. Then he is failing the very task he is supposed to perform.
We have all chosen our jobs voluntarily, with all the risks and drawbacks that they bring. This is why teacher’s emotions matter less than students’ emotions; baker’s sleep matters less than his customers’ sleep, trucker’s family matters less than his customers’ families, and police lives matter less than civilian lives.