Avioding Hostilities is the Goal But Sometimes to Gain The Advantage Reasonable Force Must Be Used

"Undertake armed conflict when it creates an advantage. Seeking armed conflict for its own sake is dangerous." ~The Art of War 7:1.14-15

With all the talk of de-escalation these days in regards to policing, I thought I would write post that's asks the question, should you always avoid hostile confrontation?

  • You should not avoid confrontation if it creates an advantage (answer).
  • You should not avoid confrontation if it hurts the competition.
  • You should never avoid confrontation.
  • You should always avoid confrontation.

Gary Gagliardi, in one of my favorite translations of Sun Tzu's, Art of War, Art of War Plus Warrior Class, Lesson 128: Avoiding Hostilities asks and explains what avoiding hostilities means and how there are indeed times we must not avoid confrontation. Specifically when it creates an advantage.

Hostile confrontations are dangerous, often disastrous. They are always costly. In policing the cost is often tallied in life or death, injury, public trust and legitimacy, come to mind. However, we can find ourselves in situations in which such confrontations are to our and societies advantage—where the cost of conflict reduces our other costs and allows us to achieve our goals more easily. When hostile confrontations can help us achieve our goals with more certainty, we can engage in them. Lets look at a recent case where police, did reduce the cost, although minor injuries were suffered by the individual and police officers, by not avoiding confrontation.

Cambridge Police Officers responded just after 9 p.m. to the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street after receiving a call that a man had thrown his clothes in a woman's face, and other calls about a man who was naked. Upon arrival, the man's friends informed officers that he had previously taken narcotics. Watch the video and you will see officers positioned themselves tactically and attempts were made to calm the subject down and reason with him were met with opposition, that showed in gestures "clenched fists When the opportunity arose and decision was made by an officer to tackle the subject and three other officers on scene assisted in attempting to apprehend the subject. The subject reportedly resisted on the ground and reasonable force was used, that included punches. The incident became very controversial as you can see from the press conference.

Though people are often much too quick to engage in hostile confrontation, we can also be too shy about confrontation. We cannot let our lack of moral courage guide us any more than we should let hostility guide us. We must be guided only by opportunity. Strategy is goals oriented. Though conflict usually takes us further from most goals, when a confrontation brings us to our goal, when we will win much more than we lose, we must directly challenge our opponents.

The goal of these officers was to protect the public and themselves as well as the subject who was standing on a traffic medium, vehicles including buses were in traffic flowing regularly in both directions and this created an even greater risk to public safety and the subject himself. Their course of action to confront and apprehend the subject reduced the cost of allowing a non-cooperative subject to move about freely as he had already assaulted at least one person prior to police arriving. What if he had been run over or a he assaulted someone else? 20/20 hindsight and watching a video, don't cut it, we have to put ourselves in the minds of the cops on the scene and that of the subject. Those in the arena interacting with each other. We also must consider the environment, time and space. There are many other things going on in real time that must be considered as well, if we are to judge police confrontations fairly.

Because such confrontations are always costly. Force is always ugly, even at its most reasonable level, especially in todays social media driven culture. We should certainly look for ways to avoid or reshape them. But persuasion is not always possible and reasonable force must be used, as I believe it was in this case. Police do not work in ideal conditions, they work in practical conditions that often unfold rapidly and are full of uncertainties. So tactical judgements must be made. Again, most confrontations occur not because they offer a true advantage but because people are either too stubborn in sticking to their plans or too lazy to work to avoid or reshape them. I see nothing but tactically minded and professional police officers in this case.

The work involved in avoiding confrontation is almost always effort well spent and police do it all the time. 98.6% of all police encounters are resolved peacefully, meaning only 1.4 % of police contacts nationwide result in police use of force. This saves us more than it costs us. We avoid confrontation because it is usually extremely effective and safer, to do so. The point is that the cost of confrontation is no excuse for fear or lack of moral courage to act reasonably. The cost can be trivial compared to the gain. However, protecting and serving is a complex job full of conflict that can be most costly (life or death) when inaction rules, it must be the gain that matters.

Stay Oriented!

Fred