Police abuse is in the national headlines again following the killing of a young black man, 22 year-old Stephon Clark, by Sacramento police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet on March 18. The officers fired 20 rounds at Clark in his grandmother’s backyard based on a report about a man breaking car windows. Clark, who was unarmed, was hit six times in the back, once in the leg, and once in the neck as he was collapsing. Dr. Bennett Omalu of “Concussion” fame conducted an independent autopsy and believes Clark was still alive for 3–10 minutes after the shooting. But Mercadal and Robinet failed to administer first aid or call an ambulance. Instead, they handcuffed Clark, turned their body camera mics off, and watched him bleed out.
We live in a society where law enforcement routinely escalates violence to unnecessary levels, particularly when dealing with people of color. In the first three months of 2018, police officers in the United States have already killed 264 people (nearly 1,000 were killed in 2017). And yet we continue to allow our cops to be trained by a treasonous, violent, white supremacist organization: the National Rifle Association.
The NRA has been certifying instructors who train law enforcement since 1960, when they established a division for that purpose. There are currently more than 13,000 active NRA-certified instructors training cops in America. These instructors come from one or more of the following constituencies: active-duty military, private security, sworn and retired law enforcement officers, and civilian firearms instructors employed by government. They are required to join the NRA and pay the organization an additional $645 for 44 hours of training to become certified. Each participant in the program is given an “extensive student manual” with “completely rewritten and updated” material. The NRA stresses that these classes are not about shooting. The focus is entirely on law enforcement techniques; dealing face-to-face with suspects in alleged crimes. The NRA has police departments and law enforcement agencies cover overhead for the training by hosting the sessions (the host agency is allowed to designate two of its employees to attend the training). Instructors must re-certify with the NRA every three years for an additional cost of $30 or more. Finally, if you want the NRA’s training materials on your computer, the NRA is happy to sell you CD-ROMs for $25 a pop.
It’s a valuable cash-cow for the organization, but the problem here isn’t the NRA’s insatiable greed. It’s the fact that they are certifying and promoting instructors who are teaching America’s police to be racist and violent.
The NRA’s favorite police trainer is retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who teaches a seminar every year at the organization’s annual meeting entitled “Sheepdogs! The Bulletproof Mind for the Armed Citizen.” Grossman is a former West Point psychology professor who invented “Killology,” a made-up science that studies “the scholarly study of the destructive act” of taking human lives. “Every single one of you is in the frontline of a live ammo combat patrol every day of your life,” Grossman told a group of Pennsylvania police officers during one seminar in 2017. Grossman encourages cops to respond to violence with “superior violence” and “righteous violence” — the antithesis of the force de-escalation that so many Americans are now calling for.
Grossman is infamous for lying to heighten his audience’s fear and paranoia. During a 2016 lecture to state troopers in California, for example, Grossman claimed that “the level of day-to-day violence in our cities has never been a fraction of what it is today” and “the number of cops murdered in the line of duty has skyrocketed.” In truth, violent crime had reached historic lows in the United States by that time. The number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty by firearms, meanwhile, has steadily decreased since peaking at 121 in 1979.
Even more disturbing is the fact that Grossman is encouraging police to target young people. At the 2015 NRA annual meeting in Nashville, he told attendees, “Folks, we have raised a vicious, vicious generation of children … Sandy Hook is just the beginning … We have a million students who are criminals, gang members, and it’s exploded … Our Founding Fathers…created the Second Amendment for just a time like this.” He added:
Only a predator can hunt a predator. Do we all agree on that? What’s a predator do? They kill. Only a killer can hunt a killer. Are you spiritually, emotionally, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life in defense of innocent lives? … If you have no propensity for violence, then you’re a nonviolent citizen. When the wolf appears, you’re doomed. ’Cause there ain’t a sheep out there that can protect you.
In any other democracy, such ramblings by “Professor Carnage” [as Steve Featherstone of the New Republic dubbed Grossman] would be considered madness. To the NRA, however, Grossman remains the gold standard in law enforcement training.
The debate about whether the NRA cares about police killing young black men ended once and for all with the organization’s non-reaction to the murder of concealed carry permit holder Philando Castile in Minnesota. The question now is: Do we want our local police departments and state/federal law enforcement agencies using our taxpayer dollars to pay for in-service training by NRA-certified instructors?
If we hope to make the killing of defenseless young men like Stephon Clark a thing of the past, the answer had better be no.