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Defensive killing by police: analyzing uncertain threat scenarios


Page, Jennifer M (2023). Defensive killing by police: analyzing uncertain threat scenarios. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 24(3):315-351.

Abstract

In the United States, police use of force experts often maintain that controversial police shootings where an unarmed person’s hand gesture was interpreted as their “going for a gun” are justifiable. If an officer waits to confirm that a weapon is indeed being pulled from a jacket pocket or waistband, it may be too late to defend against a lethal attack. This article examines police policy norms for self-defense against “uncertain threats” in three contexts: (1) known in-progress violent crimes, (2) interactions with civilians behaving non-aggressively, and (3) interactions with civilians behaving aggressively. It is argued that the context of a known in-progress violent crime gives rise to threat probability-, fairness-, and lesser evil-based reasons for a norm permitting police officers to use lethal force. However, in the contexts of civilians behaving non-aggressively and civilians behaving aggressively, such a norm is not justifiable. In the former case, I introduce two conditions, the Justification condition and the Valuing Civilian Lives condition, which I argue are not presently met. In the latter case, these two conditions again not met; aggression may moreover be excused or justified due to background injustices around race and the criminal justice system.

Abstract

In the United States, police use of force experts often maintain that controversial police shootings where an unarmed person’s hand gesture was interpreted as their “going for a gun” are justifiable. If an officer waits to confirm that a weapon is indeed being pulled from a jacket pocket or waistband, it may be too late to defend against a lethal attack. This article examines police policy norms for self-defense against “uncertain threats” in three contexts: (1) known in-progress violent crimes, (2) interactions with civilians behaving non-aggressively, and (3) interactions with civilians behaving aggressively. It is argued that the context of a known in-progress violent crime gives rise to threat probability-, fairness-, and lesser evil-based reasons for a norm permitting police officers to use lethal force. However, in the contexts of civilians behaving non-aggressively and civilians behaving aggressively, such a norm is not justifiable. In the former case, I introduce two conditions, the Justification condition and the Valuing Civilian Lives condition, which I argue are not presently met. In the latter case, these two conditions again not met; aggression may moreover be excused or justified due to background injustices around race and the criminal justice system.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, not_refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:01 Faculty of Theology and the Study of Religion > Center for Ethics
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
Dewey Decimal Classification:100 Philosophy
Uncontrolled Keywords:General medicine, General chemistry
Language:English
Date:21 April 2023
Deposited On:24 Apr 2023 09:36
Last Modified:21 Jul 2023 12:22
Publisher:University of Southern California
ISSN:1559-3061
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.26556/jesp.v24i3.995
Official URL:https://jesp.org/index.php/jesp/article/view/995
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)