A lot of this shooting bothers me, mainly because it doesn’t make sense. If the officer was a psychopath, he would have known that in shooting the suspect in the back, he would be creating problems for himself, if for no other reason than he would have a dead body with eight entrance wounds in the back, and eight exit wounds in the front. He should have seen that shooting calmly at a suspect who is running away would have negative consequences. Afterward he should have known that this shoot would have problems. And yet he seemed blissfully unaware that anything was wrong. Something about it all didn’t make sense.
I had a martial arts match way back when I was a kid, with a guy I knew. We bowed in, the fight began, and everything went lightning fast – I have an actual memory of his face and shoulders, totally clear, and everything behind him a blur. I remember this one fight because after about 45 seconds, we went out of bounds. The ref broke it up and signaled us to return to the starting positions to restart. We both looked around, and even though the crowd was on one side of the auditorium, and the instructors and judges on the other, neither of us knew where our starting position was. We both looked around, and then looked at each other confused. The ref pointed to each of us, and we went where he said, but it was a very confusing moment.
Each of our amygdalae had become so absorbed in the fight that when it stopped, our brains were non-functional for a moment, and we didn’t know where we were, where we had begun the fight, nor could we calculate where we were within the larger auditorium, or where we should have gone. To me, it almost felt as if I had woken up in a place I didn’t recognize, even though 45 seconds before I had been standing right there.
Now I am not saying the Officer should be set free and given back his shield and gun. Nor am I saying this was a good shoot. I think he planted the taser on the suspect afterward, which does radically poison how you view him and the shoot. But from an analytical perspective, those of us who carry, and might use weapons for self defense should bear in mind the effects of tunnel vision which arise when adrenaline begins to pump, and the amygdala bears down on the technical aspects of the actions you take. This may be a teachable moment for everyone.
It is entirely possible that this officer ended up in a chase, and then a fight, and once the suspect grabbed for his taser he saw a justification for deadly force due to fear of being tased and losing his firearm. At that moment, that triggered a series of actions which so absorbed him and his amygdala, he had no awareness of anything else. You can become so focused on taser retention, shielding and blocking physical blows from the suspect, shielding your weapon’s side and firearms retention, holster release, unholstering, muzzle sweep, draw, sight picture, trigger squeeze, and assessing the effects of the shots fired, that you lose sight of everything else that is going on – namely that the threat has ended, the suspect is now attempting to flee, and shooting is no longer justified. In truth, I think such an explanation would make more sense than a psychopath killing a suspect who is running away, while being video’d by a passerby. A psychopath would know better.
Adrenaline is known for producing focus, to the point it can trigger tunnel vision, as the visual field actually collapses in around the margins, only allowing you to see what is right in front of you. In addition, the exhaustion of a fight can deplete blood oxygen, negatively affecting cognitive processes, and limiting the amount of data the brain and amygdala can process.
Baseline amygdala stimulation, due to mood and prior experiences can also produce a psychological effect as well. Since I have begun examining it in myself, I have noticed times when I am much more prone to pull the trigger on an action, and other times when I am much more prone to wait for more data, and further assessment. I don’t carry a gun for a living, but I can see how if I did, such minor changes in psychology could lead me to pull a gun sometimes when I otherwise might not, and not pull a gun at times when I otherwise would. If the stars aligned properly between events and psychological state, I imagine the same person might pull an actual trigger sometimes when they otherwise might not, and not pull an actual trigger at times when they otherwise would. I can’t imagine how a brain could be reliably trained to run such go/no-go processing effectively and repeatably under threat of death, since you could not effectively simulate threat of death short of actually risking death.
It does raise a complex moral question. What makes a person’s actions evil? When the results are life and death, it can be easy to blame a person’s very spirit as evil, for something which they did in the heat of a moment which was so intense it actually changed how their brain responded. But anyone who has had intense, threat-related moments knows, the brain changes. We haven’t, as a society, coined the phrase freak-out for no reason. If this officer’s amygdala became so focused on the technical aspects of gunfighting that he failed to focus on the broader picture of shoot/no-shoot, is he evil, or was this a mistake mediated by a faulty brain that exceeded its capacity for combining stress and highly technical action?
There is no good answer to the real life circumstance, but as we all end up having to take on more personal security duties during the collapse, keep in mind that too much focus should become an amygdala flag for you, and trigger a quick assessment of your broader environment for any data of importance. If you can feel each individual ridge on your Glock trigger as you bring it up, you might want to dial down that focus a tad, and see if what is happening might have broader consequences down the line, or if something else happening around you needs addressing.
The amygdala is a machine, and as such, it needs proper handling.