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Killer Cops Should Be Held To The Same Standards As Citizens

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Caricature of Ammon Bundy
Caricature of Ammon Bundy
(Image by (From Wikimedia) DonkeyHotey, Author: DonkeyHotey)
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"They shot him right there, he was just walking -- I saw it," says Victoria Sharp . "I swear to God, he was just walking with his hands in the air." She's describing the January 26 killing of LaVoy Finicum, a member of the "Bundy Gang" of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, shot by FBI agents and an Oregon State Police SWAT team.

Sharp's account doesn't go uncontested. Mark McConnell, described as a "witness", even though he was a mile away at the time of the shooting and was just "told" what happened, describes Finicum as "charging" the police. And unidentified "law enforcement sources" tell CNN that Finicum "reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun."

Grainy overhead video of the shooting, subsequently released by the FBI, does more to stir the pot than to resolve the conflicts of the stories.

Sound familiar? It should. There are a pair of competing legends in the making, both of which will incorporate preferred truths and discard inconvenient facts to reach the pre-desired conclusions. One legend being made by many of those who decried police actions to evict the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and wanted Ferguson, Missouri police officer Daren Wilson's head on a platter for the killing of Michael Brown, are writing the "Bundy Gang" off as "terrorists" and pigeonholing Finicum's death as "suicide by cop."

Another legend is being made by many who thought that the Occupy Wall Street movement was a bunch of "smelly hippies" and wanted them swept from the streets. Many are the same ones that also made a hero out of police officer Darren Wilson who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Now those same people are portraying the "Bundy Gang" as heroes and Finicum as a martyr.

It is a strange contradiction of legends by the left and the right. I find myself in a strange position. For once, I am in the middle.

I don't know exactly what happened on Canfield Drive in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, or along US 395 in rural Oregon on January 26, 2016. Neither, in all likelihood, do you. We weren't there. One thing we can do is choose which lense to see those events through. There's another thing we can do. We can reaffirm the basic American principle that law enforcement personnel and other government employees are not special.

When a cop shoots someone under suspicious circumstances, brought into question by credible evidence or testimony, then that cop should be charged and tried for a crime just like you and I would be. Being a cop is not a license to kill.

Culpability in Finicum's death and the deaths from any other "killer cops" should be sorted out, taken before a grand jury if their is reasonable cause, and if so brought before a court of law to determine if there is reasonable doubt or proof of guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that a killer or killers wear badges and collect government paychecks is irrelevant to the matter.

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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