The One Job Where You Don’t Get Fired for Murder

How is it possible that ex-cops responsible for the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor could question their dismissal?

Protesters march in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 28, 2021. Photo: Christopher Mark Juhn/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A good reason to be fired?

A few years ago, a postal worker was fired for stealing gift cards—a measly $200 in gift cards, to be precise.

“It probably wasn’t the first time she stole something,” my wife said when I read the news article to her. “She just got caught this time.”

“You can’t assume that,” I replied.

Strangely, even though the postal worker had taken the items out of an envelope addressed to someone on her delivery route, she still delivered the empty envelope to the correct house.

The receiver eventually filed a complaint with the post office, saying that the cards were missing. That’s when the cops got involved. They were able to trace the cards to a shopping mall in the area, and camera footage inside the mall confirmed that the postal worker did indeed use the cards.

This single mother with two disabled children, who also cared for her elderly parent and was the sole earner in her household, was charged by the police and lost her job as a result of this petty theft.

By contrast, if that same police officer who arrested her was to kill an innocent person while on duty, it is not guaranteed that they would lose their job or go to jail.

A minor offense

It’s hard to consider stealing mail to be a minor offense, but in the grand scheme of things, the amount the postal worker actually stole was objectively small.

“Karen, people steal things from the workplace all the time,” I told my wife that morning.

“That doesn’t make it right,” she replied. “She can’t expect to keep her job when she breaks the law.”

Tell that to the pens and markers that somehow made their way from my wife’s office to her glove compartment.

Yes, I do understand that stealing mail is a crime.

I’m simply saying that the value of the theft and the circumstances surrounding it should be taken into account when punishment is being considered. All crimes are not equal.

Why is it that a mail carrier can lose her job for stealing gift cards, but a police officer is not guaranteed jail time or even a lost job when they unjustly kill someone?

The answer is that it is not currently a crime for a police officer to kill someone. It’s actually an expected and sanctioned part of their job.

There is no justice in that.

Public pressure

As the trial for Derek Chauvin begins, it is notable that the ex-cop who is being charged with the wrongful death of George Floyd is no longer employed by the police department.

The reasons for his firing will not be included in his trial. Attorneys for the ex-cop raised concerns that the firing was due to community pressure. Prosecutors have requested that reference to the firing not be included in the case.

This is a unique circumstance. Often, officers are not immediately dismissed when it’s alleged that they used excessive force on a suspect.

In 2018, for example, Jeronimo Yanez, who was the cop charged in the wrongful death of Philando Castile, was never fired. To be clear, Yanez was acquitted of the charge. But nobody disputes that Castile did not have to die. The police department offered Yanez a separation deal after the court’s decision, but he was never fired.

In 2014, the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner similarly lost his job and claimed it was done arbitrarily. He argued that community pressure was behind his dismissal. As a result, he filed a lawsuit to get his job back.

It’s been a year since the tragic shooting death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by cops in a supposed drug raid where absolutely no drugs were found. Thirty-two bullets were fired in her Louisville house that day, and not one officer was charged with her death, but the two who were dismissed for their role in her death are trying to get their jobs back.

“There is certainly no evidence in this case that policies and procedures of the LMPD were violated to the extent that warranted termination,” the union for the officers said in a statement.

No evidence? No policies and procedures violated? Police broke into a home and killed an innocent person, and yet they allege that nothing wrong was actually done.

That shouldn’t leave anyone with an overwhelming sense of faith or trust in our policing policies and procedures.

There is no logical way that “community pressure” should be required to fire a cop involved in a wrongful death case of a Black man or woman when someone who steals $200 worth of gift cards can be arrested and fired immediately.

Payoffs and settlements

The logic is flawed.

When someone loses their life due to a police officer’s negligence, that officer will not automatically lose their job. Instead of justice, U.S. cities offer payoffs and settlements to the families police have harmed. Cities have paid more than $3 billion over the past 10 years to end misconduct lawsuits. New York City alone averages more than $170 million in settlements per year.

It certainly doesn’t help, as a 2020 Harvard study of nearly 5,400 police-related fatalities in the United States points out, that Black people are, on average, three times more likely than White people to be killed by police.

To make matters worse, the rate of civilians killed by police in the United States far surpasses that of comparably developed countries, with 33.5 people killed by police per 10 million residents.

The bottom line is that police are killing too many people in the United States. Too many innocent people. Too many innocent people of color.

And there are not enough safeguards in place to ensure that the police officers who are at fault lose their jobs and are brought to justice.

Higher standards

Cops need to be held to a higher standard because of their authority and because they carry guns.

Are there any circumstances where a cop should keep their job when a civilian is killed? Sure. Here are two:

  1. In cases of self-defense, it makes sense that a cop should be able to protect themselves.
  2. In defense of others, it makes sense that a cop should be able to react accordingly to ensure that innocent lives are not lost.

But in all other cases, if a civilian dies because of your negligence or your error, I’m sorry, you shouldn’t keep your job as a police officer. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to do it. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think of yourself as a racist. You should, at the very least, be looking for other work.

Perhaps our laws need to be changed so that this higher standard is achieved. The burden to prove innocence in cases of police brutality, unlike in a court of law, should be placed on the cop who is alleged to have committed the offense.

“I agree, a cop should lose their job if they kill an innocent person,” my wife declared. “But the postal worker should have lost her job for stealing too.”

Okay, we can agree to disagree, for the sake of our marriage.

But in my mind, it should be much easier for a cop to get fired for brutality or negligence than for a company employee to get fired for petty theft. Police officers are too important for us to do anything less.

Travel geek. Productivity nerd. Husband, father, son, brother, friend, joker. I once met Stevie Wonder. I’ve played competitive ball hockey for 30 years.

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Momentum is a blog that captures and reflects the moment we find ourselves in, one where rampant anti-Black racism is leading to violence, trauma, protest, reflection, sorrow, and more. Momentum doesn’t look away when the news cycle shifts.

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