Thursday, June 6, 2019

Judging Cowardice Is A Scary Thing

   I’ve watched recent news coverage of a Sheriff’s Deputy who now faces charges of failing to act during the Parkland School mass shooting.  On the surface, the problem seems clear as the officer is videotaped allegedly hesitating and avoiding entering a school with an active shooter on the rampage. The officer maintains he was following existing protocol.

   The rest of the story is widely known, as quick response by law enforcement and aggressive tactics took over, but sadly the end result was the tragic deaths of many students and school staff. I offer no defense for such inactivity by a sworn officer.

   But now the raw anger continues, and the officer could face a potential 99 years in prison for his alleged inactivity. The accusation of cowardice, whether specifically stated or not, is at the center of the anger.

   Without arguing the merits of this specific case it struck me that, within the charges of negligence, the core of the anger are accusations and declarations of cowardice. I wonder by what measure or yardstick do accusers and potential jurors measure bravery, or identify cowardice in someone other than themselves. Will jurors be made up of proven “heroes” wearing their medals of valor, Police or Fire personnel with their certificates of meritorious service, or others who — in eyes of others — have proven their own bravery?

   As combat soldiers leave the protection of their cover and progress across a battlefield, some are killed halfway, some drop for cover two-thirds of the way, others move further and are killed, and some even make it all the way.  Which group then, if any, can be labeled cowards? Which are brave and which were pinned down and could move no further? Are they cowards for not pushing ahead anyway?

   Medals and citations for bravery are easier to quantify and qualify because they can be measured by an end result.  Cowardice, on the other hand, is more difficult to assess objectively since it is based essentially on non-action. In the extreme or severe negative outcome final assessments can be clouded by emotion and become mostly subjective.

   “Warriors to the front, cowards to the rear,” was a war cry attributed to Sioux warriors leading the initial charge against Custers’ 7th Calvary. In that case, position rather than result was the only qualifier.

   There are ways to punish negligence or cowardice of those in public safety positions. Employment termination, loss of pay or pension benefits, etc. are often imposed and I’m sure may be appropriate in this case.

   Imprisonment, for any length of time however, seems wrong when the prosecutors, judges and jurors themselves most likely have never been similarly tested.  If those were my kids that were killed, perhaps I’d be calling for jail time too.

   That said, judging cowardice is still a scary thing.
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