As a victim of police violence three times in less than four years -- and in each case, I committed no crime and engaged in no misconduct of any kind -- I have a perspective on this that might be different from many. In fact, I will admit that perhaps my view is skewed by my personal experience. But the bottom line is this: I've seen, up close, how some police officers can act like thugs, beasts, and outlaws. And I wonder if it might be time for the public to adopt extreme measures to protect ourselves.
One state already has adopted an extreme measure. In 2012, Indiana passed a law that allows citizens to use deadly force against any public servant they believe is unlawfully entering their home, vehicle, or real property. The term "public servant" includes law-enforcement officers.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) pushed for the law, and normally, I don't agree with the NRA on much of anything. But let's consider what has happened to my wife, Carol, and me since fall 2013:
* From roughly September 23 to October 30, 2013, Alabama deputies made about a dozen visits to our property, for no apparent lawful reason, shortly after my reports about U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and his ties to 1990s gay pornography. They even came at night, shining lights in our windows and banging on the doors. We later learned the cops supposedly were trying to serve court papers in a lawsuit filed by GOP thug Rob "Uday" Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke, (Some of the visits were apparent efforts to arrest Carol, in the week after I had been thrown in jail.) A lawyer who later reviewed the sealed file said it showed no summons had been issued during the apparent service attempts. That means the service attempts were unlawful and suggests the officers were trying to unlawfully arrest us all along. The Indiana law states, in part:
(i) A person is justified in using reasonable force against a public servant if the person reasonably believes the force is necessary to:
(3) prevent or terminate the public servant’s unlawful trespass on or criminal interference with property lawfully in the person’s possession, lawfully in possession of a member of the person’s immediate family, or belonging to a person whose property the person has authority to protect.
Under the Indiana law, Carol and I could have shot each officer as he/she stepped onto our property. Is that a result we would have wanted? No. Are extreme measures needed in an era where law-enforcement officers seem to think they can violate civil rights with impunity? Maybe.
* On September 29, 2013, Alabama deputy Mike DeHart blocked our vehicle as Carol and I pulled into a parking space at the North Shelby County Library. DeHart claimed I had rolled through a stop sign, wrote me a warning, and then handed me court papers in a lawsuit filed by GOP thug Rob "Uday" Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke, saying, "Mr. Shuler, you've been served." When it became clear the purpose of the stop was to give me court papers -- and I had not committed a traffic violation -- I realized DeHart had committed a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment. After I sent a few choice words in his direction -- calling him a "fraud," with perhaps a few qualifying adjectives -- he yanked on our open car door, grabbed my arm, and tried to pull me out of the vehicle. Carol let out a shriek that hinted she was about to jump his ass, right there with parents and children walking about. That apparently shocked some sense into DeHart, and he retreated to his vehicle, moved it, and we drove off.
Under Indiana law, Carol or I could have shot DeHart when he attempted to enter our vehicle. Is that a desirable outcome? No. What other options does a citizen have against cops who knowingly go rogue, especially when judges clearly favor cops in civil-rights lawsuits?
* On October 23, 2013, Alabama Deputy Chris Blevins drove his squad car down our driveway as I was trying to pull into the garage, nearly hitting both our car and our house. I was startled when he honked his horn, but I managed to raise the door and pull the car in. When I got out of the car, Blevins was standing inside our garage, near our car's rear bumper. He asked me to step outside, without showing a warrant, saying he had a warrant, or stating his purpose for being there. I told him to get out of our basement/garage, which was part of our home. Next thing I knew, Blevins was pushing and shoving me, knocking me to a concrete floor three times and dousing me with pepper spray.
Under Indiana law, I could have shot Blevins the minute he set foot in our garage, maybe earlier.
* On September 9, 2015, more than a half dozen Greene County deputies burst into our duplex apartment in Springfield, Missouri, for an eviction that, by law, was stayed because we had timely filed a notice of appeal. Every lawyer involved in the case had been notified of the appeal and resulting stay, but the landlord and deputies decided to evict us anyway. Carol and I had assault rifles and multiple pistols pointed at us, and a deputy slammed Carol to the ground and yanked on her arms so viciously that it broke her left arm. The damage was so severe it required repair by a trauma surgeon, and Carol is expected to regain only 75 percent or so usage.
Under Indiana law, Carol or I could have shot each officer as he (or she) burst through our front door.
Do I like the contents of Indiana's law? Well, I'm not sure that I do. I would prefer to live in a country where law-enforcement officers behave honorably, respecting the law and the rights of citizens. But we don't have that. And the latest statistics indicate officers have not learned from all the horrific mistakes they have made in recent years.
So, what do we do? My experience suggests we are more likely to need protection from cops, instead of protection by cops. Experience also teaches that cops are likely to lie about and cover up their misdeeds -- and judges are likely to favor cops over citizens who have been abused, even on camera.
The Indiana law does not allow citizens to just start firing away at cops. It says a citizen must "(a) reasonably believe the public servant is attempting to enter their home illegally; and (b) use no more force than is reasonably necessary to dispel the threat to their lives or property." Given that cops tend to be heavily armed, it seems reasonable force against them would almost always include use of a firearm.
A number of downsides to the Indiana law quickly come to mind:
* No matter how much weaponry a private citizen owns, a cop will usually be more heavily armed. The citizen is at a disadvantage;
* No matter how well trained a citizen is in the use of weaponry, a cop almost always will be better trained. The citizen is at a disadvantage;
* An untrained citizen with a firearm can be a dangerous thing. An individual, intending to shoot a rogue cop, might be more likely to shoot himself, a family member, a pet, or a neighbor. Flying bullets don't always go where they are supposed to go.
What about possible upsides? I can think of a couple:
* In a nation that is dysfunctional enough to "elect" Donald Trump, and watch him anoint Jeff Sessions as attorney general, maybe we all should be prepared to protect ourselves. Our justice system has been decaying for years -- heck, that's the whole reason this blog exists -- but it's painful to imagine how badly our constitutional rights could be trampled under Trump. Maybe we need to adopt a "Wild West" ethos and say, "Screw the justice system. It's not going to protect you, so you had better be prepared to protect yourself -- even against cops."
* Consider this question: Would the cops who abused Carol and me in the three violent instances described above have given it a second thought if they had known we might fight back, lawfully, with deadly force? Would they have been less likely to enter our property, our homes, and try to enter our vehicle, if they knew they might pay with their lives?
I suspect the answer to both questions is yes. I've learned that a lot of cops are stupid, but I don't think they are so stupid that they can't grasp the concept of self-preservation. A lot of police misconduct probably is driven by arrogance -- the knowledge that the firepower, and the courts, are on their side, even when they are acting contrary to law.
Would some of that arrogance drain away if more states adopted laws like the one in Indiana? It probably would. And that's why, while I'm not wild about the Indiana law, I'm not ready to write it off, either.