Overkill on Main Street

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To the Editor:

Last week, in the middle of the morning of a bright sunny day, I counted four policemen on Main Street in Vineyard Haven armed with guns. Someone said, “It’s because the president’s here.”

However, a couple of weeks earlier on another bright and sunny mid-morning, I counted three policemen and one policewoman on Main Street in Vineyard Haven armed with guns. Obviously, they anticipate circumstances in which the guns may or should be used, so at least a few people, I’m sure, would like to know what the policy is for the use of guns by the police in Tisbury. When are our police authorized to use lethal force? With all the official but unjustified shootings around the country, it’s a question that should be asked in every city and town, and a question that should be given a satisfactory answer. People want to know.

Certainly, there are circumstances where lethal force by the police is justified — where, for example, an officer is defending himself or someone else from attack — but apart from cases of domestic violence, it’s hard to imagine such circumstances in our mostly peaceful Vineyard.

So if I am stopped for a traffic violation, speeding, say, and get out of my car and start running away, and keep running even after the officer shouts for me to stop, is the officer authorized under present policy to draw his weapon and shoot? If I am shoplifting on Main Street and the store owner follows me out on the street and calls that policewoman and points me out to her, so that she shouts for me to stop, but I start to run away, is that policewoman authorized to draw her weapon and shoot? Would it make a difference under present policy if it were nighttime, or a case of breaking and entering?

My own view is that a citizen of the United States should not be subject to lethal force for any such nonviolent minor crimes and misdemeanors any more than for tax evasion, say, or selling gasoline and food in the summertime at inflated and exorbitant prices — especially when the lethal force is meted out without judicial process or review, subject only to the personal, subjective judgment, good or bad, of a police officer. No one, not even the police, should have the right or license to take a life, save only to save a life.

Perhaps some official could explain the town’s gun policy, beginning with how many weapons, lethal and nonlethal, there are in Tisbury, and what they are all for.

Michael Hall

Vineyard Haven