If an adult man with diminished mental capacity sits down in the middle of the street, acting confused and belligerent, it might be necessary to call the police. Ideally, the police would calm the person and get him out of harm’s way. That they manage to perform this kind of task day in and out without anyone getting hurt is one of the reasons we are grateful for their service.
The police’s job is done once they’ve gotten the guy out of the street, but that isn’t where the story ends. Ideally they would then turn the man over to a facility where he could be looked after by level-headed compassionate people who made his well-being their concern. People like Charles Kinsey.
Once again we have video of an unarmed black man being shot by police. As with Philando Castile, the motorist recently killed in Minnesota, Kinsey complied with police orders. It is difficult to imagine what he could have done differently in that situation in order not to get shot. As we’ve come to say, he “did everything right.” But in this case that doesn’t just mean he refrained from any sudden movements.
Watching this video, I don’t just feel sorry for Kinsey, I admire him. He didn’t have to go out into that street. He could have hung back and waited for the cops. When things spiraled out of control, he kept his head, communicated clearly, and did everything he could to deescalate the situation, all while still trying to protect a confused and vulnerable man. We should all be as able to handle ourselves in a crisis as well. Charles Kinsey showed exactly the kind of courage, professionalism, and everyday heroism we expect from a police officer.
I have also been in situations where I had to care for someone who was confused, belligerent, and a possible danger to himself and others. A couple of times I had to call the police, who helped me to the best of their ability. And while I was grateful for their assistance, in the end there was little they could do. We’re law enforcement, they told me flat out. We’re not nurses or social workers. If we tried to be we couldn’t do our job. In the end the people I needed the most weren’t cops, but nursing home attendants. On a day-to-day basis these are the people who make a difference for me and the people I’m responsible for, and they appear to do basically the same work as Charles Kinsey.
Cops have a job that most of us don’t want to do. In part because they subject themselves to possible violence, even risk getting killed. But they do a lot more than that. They handle drunks, domestic arguments, and schizophrenics who shouldn’t be living on the street, but there they are so somebody has to step in when they start yelling at passersby. Police handle situations that never rise anywhere near the level of violence, but still lie at the unpleasant edges of society where the social norms that get the rest of us through the day have broken down. There are a few other professions in this space. EMTs and social workers come to mind—and also behavioral therapists at halfway houses for mentally impaired adults. It’s not a stretch to say that Charles Kinsey and the North Miami police department are doing different aspects of the same job. (Considering how full our jails are of the mentally ill, not much of a stretch at all.) This week Kinsey got shot while doing his job better.