Why Charles Eimers died

 Public opinion punishes

those who admit they were wrong


      Newly-arrived visitor Charles Eimers drove away from a traffic stop on his first day in Key West. Police caught up with on South Beach. In the process of apprehending him, he died. The process killed him. We are all part of it, and we share the guilt.

     We have all seen the procedure police use to subdue suspects. They have them lie face down on the ground, and then they handcuff them. This procedure works in that it is safe for the police, while generally not injuring suspects. But when the suspect’s face is forced into a soft material like sand, it is a mortal error.

     I predict no police will be found guilty in a criminal case, but that a civil case will award Charles’ family millions of our tax dollars. Rightly so. Because we the people are intimately complicit in the attitudes and procedures that killed him.

     The police will not be found guilty for a myriad of reasons we admire. We give individuals the right not to testify against themselves, and spouses the right not to testify against each other. Professions like medicine, law, and the military forge bonds easily equal to those of marriage, probably with a lower divorce rate. We admire loyalty to our kinsmen. For the police, it’s “the thin blue line.”

     When the police refuse to testify against each other, the next process that we the people admire is our criminal court system. Requiring a jury of 12 to unanimously convict police is almost impossible without their fellow officers’ testimony. It is a combination of the standard of “reasonable doubt” and our primitive, childlike yearning to believe that our authorities are benevolent.

     None of us wants to live in a world where daddy or police are dangerous to us. Thus, every jury will have at least one who will refuse to convict. The police know this, and it is their perfect right to use our justice system as the system allows.

     The saddest part of our societal process is our faith in “policy,” as in the take-down procedure that seems to have suffocated poor Charles. The Eimers’ lawyer quite rightly, in my opinion, asserts that this procedure should not be used in sand. We tend to prefer policies as opposed to human discretion or common sense. But bad policies and procedures need to be changed.

     I called our police department to inquire about the process for amending procedures. That is, how do police in general change procedures based on bad outcomes, like the inadvertent death of a mild-mannered visitor? As usual, my emails and call were returned promptly by their administrators. But they would not let me talk to Chief Donie Lee, and the officer they referred me to in charge of policies did not in fact get back to me as promised.

     I expected as much. The last bad process we are complicit in is that public opinion punishes leaders who ever admit they were wrong, and change their minds. We vote them out of office, or, worse, in a court of law, use it as evidence of guilt. What I would pray the police, not just here but everywhere, would do is amend their take-down procedure to NOT use the face-down method on sand.

     But if Chief Lee were to institute such a common-sense amendment, it would be jumped upon as evidence of culpability. Again, that’s us. We the people do this to ourselves. It’s why doctors can’t apologize to grieving families, who oftentimes desire only that. Or bad medicines are not recalled sooner.

     The last way so many of us are complicit is in a general scorning of the “homeless.” Charles’ car full of possessions—he intended to move down here in his retirement—made officers think he was living out of it. In my column saying we should indeed arrest homeless beggars for public drinking, I asked police only not to beat them up on the way to jail. But the general outrage inclines in that direction.

     Of course, not all of us are guilty. But as a society, we revere authority enough not to convict authority-figures in jury trials, we respect group loyalty, we punish authorities that change their practices, and we have a sneaking desire to beat up a class of people we don’t like.

     Standards of guilt are different at civil trials, and juries do not respect their own tax money as much as they respect the police. It is in fact fitting and just that our representatives on the jury judge ourselves guilty as they make us pay for poor Charles’ unfortunate demise.

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