Is Deadly Force Ever Necessary?

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Today’s topic is going to be quite controversial. I hesitate even to bring it up, because my goal here is not to be a political writer. However, there is a thought which has been rattling around inside my head since I finished watching the anime Rurouni Kenshin. That thought, of course, is the question of whether deadly force is ever necessary.

In the show, the protagonist, Kenshin, has sworn a vow never to kill again as a way to repent for all of the blood he shed during the revolution leading up to the Meiji Restoration. Instead, he defeats his enemies using nonlethal force. It’s effective, to be sure, and the police usually come in and arrest the offender, but not always. This leads to some villains escaping and causing more trouble in the future. I am not saying that I think Kenshin ought to be murdering any of these people he goes up against, but there are some villains who, in my opinion, really ought to die. To quote another favorite of my shows, Burn Notice, “Sometimes you gotta put a mad dog down.”

So where does that leave us? Is deadly force ever justified? If a man is trying to rape me, am I not justified in killing him if it is the only way to save myself? I would argue yes, there are times when deadly force is not only justified, but necessary. Sorry, Kenshin. You’re still the most bad-ass pacifist I’ve ever seen. But maybe pacifism is a bit off base sometimes.

This leads, however, to another conundrum: when should deadly force be used and who gets to decide that? It cannot simply be up to the individual, yet that is usually where the decision lies. I am speaking here, of course, of the question of police officers using deadly force. It’s kind of funny that in Rurouni Kenshin there is an episode which centers on police brutality and government corruption. As I watched it, I thought, “Oh look, it’s America in 2018!” Of course, Kenshin stops the police brutality in a nonlethal way, the corrupt police officers are arrested, and the ending is happy. But it speaks volumes on the topic of abuse of power. I think that today, in many cases, some police officers are taking advantage of the fact that deadly force is sometimes permissible, and then using this to oppress minority groups. Not all police officers are like this. I’m not lumping all police officers together. But the truth of the matter is that, like the vicious “police swordsmen”  in Rurouni Kenshin,  some in the police force are acting as judge, jury, and executioner.

There is a fine line between a police state and a free state, and when the police have the authority to kill without consequence, that line is crossed.

What do you think? Is deadly force ever justifiable? Who should get to decide that? Is pacifism the answer, or should fire be fought with fire?  It’s a topic I’ve certainly been turning over in my head, and I would love to know some other takes on it.


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Do you like reading books where characters are faced with moral dilemmas? Check out my novel Charybda, the first story in a two-book series where a young woman must choose whether to fight evil with questionable means or whether to let innocent people perish. Read the first chapter here or learn more here.

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2 thoughts on “Is Deadly Force Ever Necessary?”

  1. Individuals, when their life is threatened, have the right to respond in kind.

    Some weaker individuals are not able to fight back enough when they have the right to, which brings in the need for police.

    I disagree with your premise of the police shootings in 2016/17 were police picking on minorities. At least 90 percent of them were determined that the police had reasonable cause to suspect their lives were in danger and the shooting was justified. That doesn’t mean the families involved agreed, nor the media. They portrayed the person shot as a model citizen, when in the end, most had records. And before any other commentators want to go after me. I have researched it. I have seen videos. If the police gave a command, and the person refuses, then the situation escalates. I have also watched dashboard camera videos. One video, a white man came out of his car, refused to get back in or show both hands. When he did pull his other had from behind his back, he started shooting the police officer and this was on a “routine” traffic stop!

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I certainly did not mean to insinuate that all police shootings involving minorities are an abuse of power, but there have been cases of police abusing their power and it seems to me that minorities are often the target in those cases. I grant you I have not done as extensive research as you have on the matter, though.

What are your thoughts?