It can be difficult to understand how things can go so wrong with interactions between the police and the public. One question we had at Youth Radio was how the training of law enforcement officers factors into the tragic incidents we’ve seen over the past year.
To help us gain insight, we turned to Sergeant Keith Gums, a retired 23-year veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Gums has trained fellow officers in the tactics of modern policing.
As a general practice, Gums says he tries not to comment on other police officers’ conduct. But shortly after Michael Brown was killed in August of this year in Ferguson, Missouri, Gums walked us through the uses of force in the deaths of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
In this first video below, we begin with the Garner case in New York City. Gums explains the difference between what is commonly called a chokehold and the practice known as a “carotid restraint.” Gums explained the difference — one crushes the windpipe, the other causes the subject to pass out — and the dangers of both.
Gums also discussed Officer Darren Wilson’s actions in Ferguson, Missouri. “I do believe the officer lost that veil of professionalism,” said Gums in the second video below. “And when he lost that veil of professionalism, he became angry — lost control of his emotions.”
In the third video, Gums went on to talk about issues of power and submission. He critiqued an attitude he’s seen officers take on toward citizens: “You must always do what I say, when I tell you to do it.” Gums said he would encourage a different mode of policing, “because people are human beings.” Even if Michael Brown did strike Wilson and bang his head against the wall of his car, as has been reported. “At the point that Michael Brown stopped, that’s when the officer has to stop,” said Gums.
Speaking more generally about police protocol, in the fourth and final video Gums responded to Youth Radio’s question about why, in the case of an individual who does not pose an immediate threat, police officers don’t aim for a leg or arm, and simply disable the suspect. “If you pull your weapon, you must have intent to use deadly force,” Gums said. “If you’re going to use deadly force, you shoot to stop the individual. And when you shoot to stop the individual, the way you stop the individual is by killing them.”