Better to be Tried by Twelve than Carried by Six

Jack Dunphy23 Jan, 2022 5 Min Read
Brianna Kupfer, 24, RIP.

Among the hundreds of arrests I’ve made in almost 40 years of police work, I can think of only one I regret. It happened in 1984, give or take a year, a time of increasing violence in Los Angeles, especially South-Central L.A., where I was working as a patrol officer. In the division I was assigned, as in those nearby, we saw two or three murders a week and twice as many non-fatal shootings, and we were drilled constantly on the need to be proactive and get guns off the streets.

The traffic stop that led to the arrest was legally justified, as was the search that turned up the loaded handgun under the driver’s seat. The man had violated the law and I had caught him at it fair and square, yet even now, all these years later, I still regret it.

The man was not a gang member, or any type of criminal at all, for that matter. He was a working man in his 20’s, about the same age as me at the time, and his job required him to take cash receipts to the bank at the end of his shift. He was every bit as aware of the crime problem in the area as I was, if not more so, and he had started carrying a revolver in his car as a precaution against robbery, a crime that occurred even more frequently than shootings.

Vigil for Michelle Go, killed in a Times Square subway station by being shoved in front of a train by a "mentally ill" homeless man.

But at the time I was too young and inexperienced to realize that even though everything about the arrest was 100 percent legal, it drew very near to the line of being immoral. Neither the man nor his gun posed a threat to anyone save for someone seeking to rob him of the money entrusted to him by his employer, and if he had shot some thug trying to do just that, my colleagues and I would have celebrated it. Still, I made the arrest and got a gun off the street. Were I to meet the man today, I would apologize to him. I pray his ordeal was brief and minimally unpleasant.

I have thought of that man often while watching the news recently. We have been told of defenseless women being killed by men whose freedom to roam the streets and commit acts of cruel depravity is testament to the moral inversion that has been evident for years but lately become obvious to all but the most nakedly partisan “criminal justice reformers.” These “reformers” peddle the childish fantasy that we would all be safer if only we treated criminals more kindly. The crime trends of the last thirty years would belie this fantasy, but here we are. Apparently, some lessons need to be re-learned with each generation, and this generation’s education comes at the price of innocent lives

At about 5 a.m. on Jan. 13, 70-year-old Sandra Shells was the victim of an unprovoked attack at a bus stop near the L.A. County-USC Medical Center. A man knocked her to the ground, causing her to strike her head on the sidewalk. She died three days later in the hospital where she had worked as a nurse for 38 years. A homeless man, Kerry Bell, has been arrested and charged with Shells’s murder.

The suspect in Brianna Kupfer's murder: also "mentally ill."

Later on Jan. 13, Brianna Kupfer, 24, was working alone at a furniture store in Los Angeles when she sent a text message to a friend saying she was getting a “bad vibe” from a man who had entered. A customer entered the store about twenty minutes later and found Kupfer on the floor, stabbed to death. A man with a "history of mental illness," identified as Shawn Laval Smith, has been arrested for her murder.

On Jan. 15, Michelle Go, 40, was in New York’s Times Square subway station when, in another unprovoked attack, she was shoved into the path of an oncoming train. She died, and Martial Simon, 61, has been arrested and charged with her murder.

All three of these accused killers have been described as suffering from mental illness in the past, and all of them have criminal histories sufficiently opulent to raise the question of why, after their repeated demonstrations of violent, antisocial behavior, were they not confined somewhere safely away from their unwary victims.

My long career in police work has offered me a vantage point from which to view the arc of the criminal-justice pendulum as it has swung from leniency for criminals in the early ‘80s to harsh punishment in the ‘90s and then back again, with the current fashion of treating criminals as victims and victims as irrelevant pawns in the “progressive” effort to empty the nation’s prisons and jails. Will the deaths of these three women, added to the already widespread worries over rising crime, cause the pendulum to reverse course once again?

Perhaps, but the pendulum’s mass is great and its inertia powerful. Even if the public reached a consensus this very day that they have had enough with the soft-on-crime policies now in place in so many cities, so entrenched are the people who have brought those policies about that it will take years to fully reverse course to the point that violent crime will start trending downward once again. In the meantime, how can the law-abiding citizen protect himself?

There is an adage among cops that goes, “It’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six.” In other words, it’s better to protect yourself and take a chance on being charged with a crime than it is to be killed through your hesitancy to act. Which brings me to the man I arrested years ago for having a gun in his car. He surely made the same kind of risk-reward calculation, reasoning that it was more prudent to carry the gun illegally and risk arrest than to face a robbery without it and risk death.

In Los Angeles, where it’s nearly impossible to obtain a concealed-carry license, how many people are weighing this very decision right now? The neighborhood where Brianna Kupfer was killed was once considered safe, but the nearby map, taken from the LAPD’s crime-mapping website, shows crimes reported to the police in the area since Aug. 1 of last year. The abundance of symbols on the map reveal the area is anything but safe, even apart from Brianna Kupfer's murder.

The same observation can be made elsewhere. In Chicago, for example, where a CCW license is also all but unobtainable, people are long accustomed to violent crime on the city’s south and west sides, but today shootings, robberies, and carjackings are common in such neighborhoods as the Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, and the Magnificent Mile. How many otherwise law-abiding Chicagoans have decided to carry guns illegally rather than risk falling victim to the ongoing crime wave?

But be warned. Yes, it’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six, but the risk of facing criminal charges after using deadly force in self-defense has never been greater. Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón would gleefully charge someone who acted even in obvious self-defense if the politics of the situation demanded it, which is to say if the racial calculus met certain criteria. The same is true of Kim Foxx in Chicago, Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, and any of the other “progressive” prosecutors holding office across the country

Consider what the response would have been had Brianna Kupfer, after sending the ominous text message to her friend, had armed herself with a gun and shot her assailant at the first sign of his knife. Today in some quarters she would be branded as a privileged white girl from Pacific Palisades who fired out of inordinate fear of a black man innocently shopping for furniture. Absent video of the man assaulting her, Gascón would likely have charged her.

But she would be alive, which is better than what actually happened. Fellow citizens, consider the risks, and act accordingly.

Jack Dunphy is the pseudonym of a police officer in Southern California. He served with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than 30 years. Now retired from the LAPD, he works for a police department in a neighboring city. Twitter: @OfficerDunphy


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17 comments on “Better to be Tried by Twelve than Carried by Six”

  1. "The residents of each of the cities listed freely elected Gascon, Foxx, and Boudin to their positions of authority. They are getting exactly the government they voted for -- good and hard. Spare me the crocodile tears, please."

    This attitude is a major part of the problem.

    First, Soros is targeting Prosecutor offices because they are often overlooked, and easy to overwhelm with tons of money. In a race that typically spends tens of thousands of dollars, a million dollars throws everything out of whack. Did these residents sincerely know what they were voting for? And, in this day and age, we even have to ask this question, as well: how many of these people did vote against the Prosecutor, but had their own votes drowned out by illegal votes?

    Second, even in these conditions, many of the residents didn't vote for these Prosecutors. Do they not deserve our sympathy? Do they deserve to "get it, good and hard"?

    Third, not all people who will be subjected to the wiles of these Prosecutors will be residents. Kyle Rittenhouse, for example, had a very strong relationship with the community of Kenosha -- family ties and work in particular -- but he had no say in the Prosecutor, both because he was too young to vote, and because he wasn't literally a resident at the time. Yet the Prosecutor still tried to put him in prison for life when he defended his life in what was possibly the clearest case of self defense in a long time.

    So, withhold your tears if you must, but I would rather mourn for them, as the problems with Prosecutors come to light -- and as we look for ways to limit their damage. Andrew Branca proposed something he calls "Kyle's Law" -- my primary problem with it, though, is that the proposed law is limited only to self defense. Rather than wallow in the misery of people who have "Soros Prosecutors", I'd much rather ask ourselves "How can we prevent more Soros Prosecutors from being elected? And how can we limit the authority of Prosecutors, both to keep them from abusing peaceable citizens, and preventing them from being lenient on crime, while still giving them enough authority to actually do their jobs?"

  2. Human society dealt with criminality long before the police existed as an organization. We may be returning to those 'before' days again.
    From a Chicago Tribune News story on 6/3/20 (bearing in mind the "groups of people with bats" are the Latin Kings street gang):

    On Sunday afternoon, Little Village neighbors came together to protect 26th Street businesses after people looted shops. Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said as the night went on, a few Latino men became “antagonistic” and were indiscriminately targeting Black people driving through the neighborhood.

    . . . . In a Facebook Live video shot at 50th and Cermak in Cicero at 7 p.m. Monday, groups of people with bats and metal pipes were gathering near the intersection.

    “Non-Black, Latinx gangs [are] armed with bats, machetes,” said Luz Chavez, who shot the video. “Any car that passes by with Black people in it, they are yelling at it and throwing s—,” she said.

  3. There is a line, however, between self-defense and murder/assault. The movie clip from Death Wish actually crosses it. Shooting muggers while they are trying to rob you (even if they are only using a knife) - fine. Shooting muggers while they are clearly helpless on the ground or running away - that's no longer self-defense and should be prosecuted. In contrast, Kyle was able to prove that the people he shot were a danger to him and that he was acting in self defense. Indeed, when one of them stopped and looked like he was going to withdraw, Kyle held his fire. It was only after the man starting lunging at him again that Kyle fired, hitting his arm and removing the threat.

  4. Until the son or daughter of a prominent politician or journalist, or a prominent politician or journalist themselves becomes a murder victim, nothing will be done to get and keep these animals off our city streets.

  5. Only the majority of voters voted for their government. The rest voted against, and they don’t deserve the consequences.

    Given family and job conservations, they may or may not be able to move away. In any case many are leaving, often at considerable trouble and expense. They don’t deserve those consequences either, even tho they are willing to accept them.

  6. While I agree wholeheartedly with the points made in the article, Officer Dunphy, I'm afraid I must offer a correction on a non-trivial technical point.
    It is not, in fact, difficult at all to obtain an Illinois Concealed Carry License in Chicago, nor is it very difficult to legally purchase and possess.
    There is a lot of old information about Illinois and specifically Chicago gun law that still floats around and this idea is an example.
    Prior to July 1st, 2013, when the Firearm Concealed Carry Act of 2013 went into effect, what you say is more than true: there was no such thing as a license to carry in public in the state. (It was legal all along to carry on one's own property and at one's business.)
    FCCA '13 changed that overnight.
    Possibly the best thing about the carry law apart from the obvious is that it contained strict pre-emption of local laws pertaining to the ownership, possession, and carriage of handguns. Chicago's onerous handgun permitting systems went to the ashbin of history that night, and now Chicago citizens have the same handgun laws as do the rest of Illinoisans. The city cannot override state laws.
    Over the course of the last eight-plus years it has been my pleasure to assists many hundreds of Chicagoans take the legal steps to restore their right to carry.

  7. Especially sobering: what happens to society when the law-abiding middle class decides that for practical purposes the police themselves have chosen sides, and are firmly on the side of the violent criminals?

    Is that an unreasonable decision when government refuses to control violent criminals but arrests and prosecutes their potential victims for possessing the means to defend themselves?

    What happens to society when the middle class decides that obeying laws is for suckers, and decides that police are every bit as criminal as violent criminals who don’t wear badges?

  8. Its not naivete. Its Marxism- the Lupenproletariat who are so put down by Capitalism they commit crime.

  9. Vigilantes are coming back soon and so is the Mafia which will sell useful protection services.

  10. The whole point of the leniency combined with efforts to make guns illegal is to cause the country to descend in to chaos, so that the populace will demand an authoritarian government to set the place in order. I doing so we become the Chinese.

  11. 40 year career and you can think of only one you regret. That right there is the problem.

    BLM/Antifa and cops are but two sides of the same low-IQ nazi thug coin.

  12. The residents of each of the cities listed freely elected Gascon, Foxx, and Boudin to their positions of authority. They are getting exactly the government they voted for -- good and hard.
    Spare me the crocodile tears, please.
    Where does it say that residents of corrupt, Democrat-run cities are entitled to be exempt from the political choices that they make?

  13. Years ago, I listened to radio talk show host Michael Jackson interview LA police chief, later city councilman whose name I forget. The topic was the dangers of carrying an illegal weapon. The callers that day were all women who carried a gun in their purse. All said exactly the same thing. "I will not be a victim." The host and the police chief would lecture each caller about how bad that was to carry an illegal gun. Then the next caller would say the same thing. "I will not be a victim." I was driving as I listened and almost had to pull over I was laughing so hard. Michael Jackson was a lefty but I enjoyed his show. He died the other day.

  14. -- These “reformers” peddle the childish fantasy that we would all be safer if only we treated criminals more kindly. --

    This actually started with a single judge named David Bazelon. He eventually reached the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C., where he emitted some of the most naive and destructive opinions ever called "jurisprudence."

  15. Sure, but now there are even more immoral a$$ho1es like you were, wearing a badge and gladly willing to take the gun out of the hands of Brianna, that privileged white girl.

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