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Police shootings have many victims


Forever young: family and friends farewell TylerYet another police shooting occurred over the weekend. A junior officer fired several shots after a 48-year-old woman lunged at her with a knife at North Parramatta in Sydney.

The woman is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. But at least she is recovering.

Tyler Cassidy was not so lucky. The Melbourne 15-year-old was killed 11 days ago as he confronted police in a suburban skate park armed with two knives.

It is gratifying that there was no anger directed towards police during his funeral service on Thursday.

RMIT University criminologist Dr Julian Bondy expressed alarm at the earlier outpouring of distress and anger towards the police, particularly on internet social networking sites. Bondy was referring to descriptions of Cassidy as a 'soldier' in the 'war' against authorities.

Perhaps it is time to question the extent to which we should be proud of the anti-authoritarianism in our culture.

Clashes with police have played a prominent part in the 220 years since white settlement. We lionise Ned Kelly. We celebrate our convict heritage, and we take for granted justification of the Eureka Stockade uprising against police at Ballarat in 1854. There is even a proud and conscious echo of this event in the title of this publication.

We also had last week's defiant reaction of Palm Islanders and other Australians to the appeal court decision to overturn the coroner's finding that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was responsible for the 2004 death in custody of Palm Islander Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee.

There are bad police, but there are also good police, just as there are bad and good citizens. All have the same right to justice. This is a more complex situation, and there is a strong case to argue for a royal commission. But Queensland Premier Anna Bligh had a point when she insisted last week that 'in our legal system people are entitled to seek an appeal and that's what's happened here and I think that reflects the health of our system'.

After the Tyler Cassidy incident, we received a letter from Phil Pyke, who was a Tasmanian police officer until 2007. He related his personal experience of what it's like for police to 'face the angry man', in his case a known criminal with a history of violence. The besieged criminal warned police that he wanted to die in a shoot-out with them. Believing the lives of officers were in danger, Pyke began to pull the trigger.

While I was focused and apparently roaring at him as well, one of the officers from a second unit ran across from the other side, his weapon raised as well. This drew the attention of the offender who suddenly rolled his arm and dropped the coat — he had no weapon!

Pyke's point is that there's no clear-cut process in the decision whether to shoot or not. In the case of Tyler Cassidy, capsicum spray failed to subdue him. Pyke argues that media speculation 'pushes the debate into the court of public opinion without regard for those affected by the tragedy'. This also applies to the Doomagee case, and the other historical events mentioned above.

We need to remind ourselves that a police shooting has many victims, including the officers themselves.

'They've never faced an angry man': Phil Pyke on police shootings

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.




Topic tags: michael mullins, Tyler Cassidy, police shooting, phil pyke



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Existing comments

The police were given 20 minutes warning that there was an out of control person yet the comment from one of thwe cops was "There is no time to think". Maybe we should be more selective when recruiting cops ... say with the ability to think of one solution to one problem in say under 20 minutes and maybe we should give them nets instead of guns. Long Live the Rebellion.

Greig Williams | 22 December 2008  

Perhaps I have missed something, but I have not seen any evidence that Tyler Cassidy was not suffering some mental condition. Unless he was free from such it does not seem appropriate to quote his case as an example of anti authoritanism.

Ben Lochtenberg | 22 December 2008  

I think your comments on our historical events such as Ned Kelly and other are out of place in this discussion. The Police (& sometimes army and hussards in England against unarmed civilians!) in those days were far from restrained. They were there to hit, kick, blast you name it, people who were demonstrating, sometimes throwing stones (they had/have no arms)at the police against authorities who ignored their plight!

As for the Palm Islander, again, he had no chance against a Police force who knows how to 'manipulate'(??) the laws. We got a lecture at the ANU by the defence lawyer about this case.
Re-training how to shoot and NOT KILL, could be a good start. Also, negotiating skills are a must (how do you think teachers survive?), keeping a cool head, recognising when someone is a sick person (call the appropriate counsellor??)and stop using the capsicum spray (see cases in ACT where police went mad with the spray!)

Anti-authoritarianism will always be there; also there will always be stupid people who do the wrong thing. However, the Police should learn to win the public's respect. It is their responsibility to do so.

Nathalie | 22 December 2008  

Victims? If they had not been misbehaving in the first place they would not have been hurt. Thus, they surely brought the damaging consequences on themselves. What about some pity for the police who get forced into unpleasant situations?

Hugh Laracy | 22 December 2008  

Michael asks an important question - to what extent should we be proud of the ‘anti-authoritarianism in our culture. But then he confuses the answer by raising the issue of recent police shootings.

The shootings were tragic events for the shooters, the shot, and the rest of us. On that matter, I wholeheartedly agree with Michael.

And like Michael, I am also disturbed that much of the reaction to the shootings (including some of the responses above) in which the abuse levelled at police officers, the police system, and the rule of law, was irrational, poorly targeted and unconstrained.

But to see the cause of that response as being grounded in ‘anti-authoritarianism’ is, I think, going too far and missing the point. A healthy scepticism of authority – secular or sacred – is essential to a healthy relationship between leaders and led.

Rather, it seems to me that the radio shock-jocks and the tabloid columnists and cynical politicians have to accept a lot of responsibility in the short term. It is they who talk a lot about ‘democracy’ and very little about ‘justice’ in the true sense of that word. It is they who whip up and legitimise the emotional responses.

But the question remains as to why they can be so effective? And here I think the answer has something to do with the disconnect that many (most?) people (the led) feel with those in authority (the leaders).

I’d be interested in taking this debate further.

Warwick | 22 December 2008  


would you happen to know the number of deaths by police shootings in australia ?

or if not a link to the correct website?

curious and angry,

regards ,

chris bramley | 18 July 2010  

I'm a third year Law student at flinders and have an assignment on any topic I choose in the subject Policing and Law enforcement > we were addressed by a Police Superintendent. I asked the question as a ex SAS officer in nam why to you shoot to critical body mass His answer was appalling, The assignment is a group assignment, there are three in my group. Can you help with any relevant sites which could help us mount a case to take away the guns from police officers who aren't trained to use them to maim not kill and especially statistics on the number of people killed or maimed by police shootings in Australia and I will make a donation .

Dr Ray Farrelly | 18 August 2011  

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