first through the door

I give no weight to the claim by the Uvalde, TX police that they couldn’t breach that classroom door because it hadn’t been authorized. No weight at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully willing to believe that whoever was in charge of the situation (and it was such an astonishing jurisdictional fuck-up that it’s hard to say who was actually giving orders to whom) refused to authorize the breach. But I don’t believe that’s what actually prevented the police from entering the classroom. And in fact, it appears the final decision to breach was made despite orders not to do it.

I strongly suspect the reason for the delay was that nobody wanted to be the first person through the door. They knew there was somebody on the other side of the door with a semi-auto rifle. They knew that person had already shot and killed a bunch of kids; they knew he wouldn’t shy away from shooting at police officers. They knew the first officer through that classroom door would be targeted. They knew there was a very good chance that first officer through the door would be wounded or killed.

I’ve never been in that situation, though I’ve been in something similar. Years ago, when I was working as the counselor for the Psychiatric/Security Unit of a prison for women, I occasionally found myself standing outside a cell in which an inmate had either obtained or fashioned a knife. Obviously, you can’t allow prison inmates to have knives, which means somebody has to take it from them.

Because we had a duty of care for the inmates–and we actually believed in it–that meant finding a way to take the knife from the inmate with the least amount of damage to the inmate. Not the least amount of damage to the unfortunate volunteer who had to enter the cell, but to the inmate. That’s what a duty of care means; you have an obligation to try NOT to hurt the people under your care or allow them to be hurt.

The very best resolution, of course, is for that unfortunate volunteer to try to talk the inmate into surrendering the knife. As the unit’s counselor, my job was to be the unfortunate volunteer. Open the door, go in the cell by myself, try to convince an inmate to drop her weapon. You go in by yourself because that’s less threatening.

I’m not an idiot, though. I always had a team waiting outside, out of view, ready to rush in and help me if/when things went sideways. It made going into that cell a little bit less terrifying.

Talking worked maybe half the time. Half the time the inmate either refused to drop the knife (in which case I had to act to take her knife away) or she attacked me. I trained for this, of course, and practiced techniques for defending myself against a knife attack. But it was still pretty awful waiting outside that door, knowing I’d have to go in and maybe have to defend myself. The longer I had to wait (for example, if the backup team hadn’t arrived), the harder it was to open that door and step inside.

It has to be a LOT scarier to stand outside a door knowing the person inside has a semi-auto weapon and has already killed people.

But here’s the thing: that’s the job. You train for it. You practice it. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but it’s your job to put aside your personal safety. If you can’t do that–or if you’re unwilling to do that–then you should leave the job.

Over the last several years, the attitude of police officers has shifted away from that. It began with that mantra “It’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.” More and more we’re seeing police officers put their own safety ahead of the public’s. We see police officers shooting suicidal, knife-wielding, psychiatric patients–because it’s safer for them. We see police officers shooting people suspected of possibly having a weapon–because it’s safer for them. We see police officers shooting people out of fear for their own safety.

That’s perfectly understandable. Nobody wants to get hurt, nobody wants to get stabbed or shot, nobody wants to take unreasonable risks. But that’s part of the fucking job. You train and practice ways to reduce the risks, to minimize the risks, to limit the damage you will very likely have to take. But those risks are hard-wired into the job.

As I understand it (and lawdy, there is SO MUCH confusion and misinformation about what actually happened in Uvalde that we still can’t be sure what took place), the first person through the door was grazed by a bullet. He could have been killed. But had he (or some other law enforcement person) had been willing to take that risk 45 minutes earlier, there’d be fewer funerals of children held this week.

The police culture needs to change. They need to be reminded about the entire point of being police officers. Protect and serve. Protect the public, serve the public. Do that even at the risk of your own safety. If you can’t or won’t put the public ahead of yourself, go work security at some shopping mall.