Unarmed But Armed (and Dangerous)

By Cyberquill 08/23/20145 Comments


Last month, 43-year-old African-American Eric Garner died in consequence of a chokehold applied by a NYC police officer.

Mr Garner was unarmed.

Although the police officer who killed him was armed (in the sense of carrying a firearm), he never pulled his weapon but instead used his arms (= his upper limbs) to deal death, inadvertent as the fatal outcome may have been in this case.

So as far as is relevant regarding the termination of Mr Garner’s life, his killer was unarmed, too.

This proves that one doesn’t need to be armed (= carry an external weapon) in order to present a lethal threat. The physically stronger, or trained in pugilism or martial arts, we are relative to our adversary or intended victim, the easier it is for us to kill or harm with our bodies—our “bare hands”—alone.

In other words, if we have arms (or legs, for that matter), we’re armed, no matter how technically “unarmed” we may be. (Mileage, of course, varies greatly among individuals, depending on factors such as age, health, physical fitness, predisposition for daredevilry and aggression, etc.)

Many centuries ago, a weapons ban on the island of Okinawa helped fuel the refinement of a nascent combat technique named karate, which literally means “empty hand.”

So when we hear that someone, like a police officer, gunned down an “unarmed” individual, what exactly does that tell us about the danger said individual was posing, or could reasonably have been assumed to pose, and hence about the justification for using a firearm in order to neutralize that danger in order to protect oneself or others?

Absent additional information, it tells us nothing.

If you doubt that, ask Mr Garner, who can testify to the fact that “unarmed” doesn’t necessarily mean “harmless.”

On second thought, he can’t testify to anything.

Because he’s dead.

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  • Richard

    Do you say the threat only of a firearm means that the possessor is unarmed relative to the non-possessor?

    Do you say the possessor of skills in the martial arts is armed relative to the non-possessor?

    If so, then you say the crucial distinction is not necessarily ostensible superiority.

    Thus your final dilemma may be resolved on evidence as to Mr Garner’s degree of actual physical prowess and the police officer’s awareness of it.

    Look for witnesses in order to assess culpability.

    You are right to draw attention to the fact that things may not be as they seem. That is always the case.

    Here, it seems, the police officer was at least the equal in ohysical prowess and capable of moderating his hold, if appropriate.

    Or is the purpose of the post to draw attention to racial tension? In which case you risk the injustice you condemn in your previous post.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      I don’t understand your first question.

      As to your second, while bodily arms aren’t arms in the technical sense, they can be used to kill or harm like external arms. If you’ve ever seen a martial artist smash a pile of bricks with his fist, it’s hard to argue he’s ever “unarmed” even if he doesn’t carry a weapon.

      In the case of shootings like the one in Ferguson, the automatic connotation appears to be that an “unarmed” person couldn’t possibly have posed much of a threat to an “armed” person, wherefore shooting the former in self-defense must have been unjustified by definition.

      I’m merely saying that ain’t necessarily so, as the (white) chokehold killer has demonstrated. And of course if a white guy can inflict bodily harm up to and including death with his bare hands, so can a black guy. If either seems intent on doing so, how “unarmed” is he and how do you stop him?

      In a way, “armed” and “unarmed” are relative terms as far as their practical implications.

      • Richard

        My first question puzzles me also. Allow me to re-phrase it. Would you not agree that an uncocked, holstered, unloaded pistol is a threat. Which justifies its possessor being described as armed?

        As to the second, is everyone to be regarded as armed, or only one who is skilled in martial arts? You do not appear to distinguish the former from the latter: you thus unjustifiably discount the ostensible element.

        It is relevant, and so evidence is required of Mr Garner’s skills in the martial arts and the police officer’s knowledge of his skills. It turns out that the police officer was at the very least equal to any skills he may have possessed.

        Failure to consider those aspects suggests bias in favour of the police officer, bias of the very same kind that you rightly condemn in your previous post.

        • Richard

          You do, of course, redeem yourself in the final paragraph of your reply to me.

          • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

            Does breaking into a bank wielding an unloaded gun constitute “armed” robbery? I don’t know. I suppose one could throw the gun at a person, causing injury or even death.

            As I said, it’s all relative. A person with a loaded AK-47 seems relatively unarmed vis-a-vis someone with a nuclear rocket launcher.

            Besides, unless and until proven otherwise, common sense requires that any firearm be assumed to be loaded, and that any realistic-looking toy gun be taken for a real one. In other words, that the wielders of such instruments be considered armed, irrespective of whether the proper definition of “armed” connotes “real and loaded” or not.

            Is a person “armed” when behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? Just because an item wasn’t designed as a weapon doesn’t mean it cannot and would not be used as such.

            It’s not just about being trained in martial arts. I just used that as an example. It’s more about physical superiority as far as destructive powers, real or sincerely perceived, be it the result of training or inherent physical attributes or both.

            For instance, I’m a youngish, tall, muscular guy. Although I never made it beyond a green belt in Karate, if I were “unarmed” and came at, say, Woody Allen with the intent to break his neck, and if the famed director were unarmed as well, he’d likely be in pretty bad shape when I’m done (rather than the other way around).

            And even if I turned out to be weak and harmless in spite of my physical appearance, Mr Allen wouldn’t know that if I approached him with a menacing demeanor. Based on my appearance, he might well be justified in fearing for his life. He couldn’t know I was, in fact, a weakling with a lowly green belt as opposed to a black belt (or some equivalent thereof on account of physical strength twinned with an inherent turn for ferocity and violence) that could, and would, crush his skull with one punch.

            I’m not “failing to consider” any aspects. If anything, I’m adding an aspect that other people, it seems, fail to consider; an aspect that, granted, translates into vouchsafing the benefit of the doubt to the police officer in this case. Michael Brown’s demeanor and actions coupled with his physical appearance may have been such that the police officer predicted, perhaps correctly so, that he (the police officer) would get creamed in a direct physical confrontation with Mr Brown.

            Whether or not such a confrontation was indeed imminent — i.e., whether Mr Brown indeed came barreling toward the police officer in a menacing fashion (as opposed to just standing there in the middle of the street with his hands in the air as instructed) — is difficult to determine, as eye witness accounts (at least those available through the media) appear to diverge sharply from one another.

            Point being, “unarmed” may but does not necessarily equal “harmless.”

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