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Letter: What is 'reasonable belief' in Officer Wilson, Michael Brown case?
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I am starting to get mad with people who want to move after the fact that our young black men are being murdered. Negative protest is in my opinion completely out of order. We should not be disrespectful no matter what color we are.

There are a lot of things that are out of sync with this case. First of all we need to teach our young black men how to follow the verbal commands of law enforcement officers. We must teach them how to effectively handle themselves when encountering police officers who train to kill and not slow down an assailant. I have been wronged by the police while employed and certified as a police officer. Second as a former police officer that was trained to kill when handling my service weapon, I also was taught to serve and protect the public. I do have a problem with Officer Wilson's continued actions in pursuing Michael Brown. By all means everyone has the right to defend themselves in self-defense. Here is what everyone is missing including Law Enforcement Officers.

So what information does a victim use to determine if he has a "reasonable belief" that he will be seriously hurt or killed? Most self-defense trainers and legal scholars use a three-pronged test: Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy.

Ability - Can the attacker physically do enough damage to rise to the level of serious injury or death? An unarmed 4-year old would not likely have the ability to kill you, therefore it would be unreasonable to shoot the little kid in self-defense. Often the term "ability" in the context of a self defense situation means "Is the attacker armed with a deadly weapon" or "Is the attacker capable of seriously injuring me with just his hands or feet?" If the answer to those questions is no, then it is unreasonable to shoot. If the answer is yes, you move on to the next criterion.

Opportunity - Does the attacker have the opportunity to seriously injure or kill me? This is often focused on proximity. If a person is threatening you with a knife from 50 feet away, he has the ability to kill you; but not the opportunity. He's out of range. Obviously, opportunity depends on the weapon being used against you and your immediate environment. If the attacker has the ability (is armed) and the opportunity (is within range to use the weapon effectively) to kill you, then we move on to the next prong of the decision tree.

Jeopardy - Just because a person is armed and has an opportunity to kill you doesn't mean that you are in any true danger. Take the example of a uniformed police officer walking past you on a sidewalk. The officer has the ability (a gun) and opportunity (is within range) to kill you, but unless you present a threat to the officer, you are in no jeopardy. He isn't going to shoot you even though he is capable of doing so.

Another way to look at jeopardy is by defining it as "intent". Does the attacker intend to seriously hurt or kill you? If not, it isn't reasonable to shoot. All three criteria must be met in order to legally establish that it was "objectively reasonable" to use deadly force. Officer Wilson was wrong to continue in pursuit of Michael Brown which caused him to feel that he was doing his job which in my opinion was overboard with fear and heightened aggression. This not about black or white, it's about respect of each other's life.

Pastor Anthony Smith
Nehemiah Empowerment Group Ministries, Inc.