Death as a Living – Doyle Burke

In Death as a Living, Doyle Burke tells the stories of memorable homicide cases. Burke was a homicide detective in Dayton, Ohio, investigating over 800 cases, some you would recognize. Burke and I would disagree about a lot of fundamental things about how to handle crime in the USA and on a few ways he understands issues related to race. (I’m against the death penalty. I’m against building more prisons. I don’t think seriously mentally ill people belong in jails, even if they require institutionalization and I don’t think jail should be the only option even if taxes go up. I think specialists should get some of the money spent on police forces so that psychologists and social workers at least jointly handle some calls. No: you don’t joke with black female coworkers in ways that feature race or sex no matter how the two of you think about it…) But you know what? I think we could talk about these things and each justify our positions without hating each other and I bet his positions will be complex and nuanced. Burke gives all of us a clear understanding of the process he went through as one of many players in each homicide. We learn enough about the victims and the perpetrators to understand them as people, place them in society and to comprehend what we all kind of realize, that often the motive for a horrible crime will not explain a darned thing to our satisfaction.

He does an amazing job explaining criminal law to lay people. I am a lawyer, but don’t do criminal law. He explains why people have their rights read, why police need a warrant no matter how sure they are they have the right suspect, what the standards are for using deadly force and gives examples where it was properly used and where using a weapon would have saved a cops life. He acknowledges George Floyd’s death was criminal and that the three officers who stood by did not do their duty. He even explains why prosecutors lose rock solid cases on appeal. It’s not easy to explain these constitutional rights correctly and understandably in a sentence or two. Bravo. Burke also emphasizes the incredible familial relationships among officers that creates tight “got your back” bonds even across state and international borders. This is so well written. It was cowritten by a journalist but you can tell Burke himself tells a cohesive, good story. He must have been a heck of a witness. We hear some gallows humor. We hear some horrifying tales. We see a police officer’s perspective that is balanced, interesting and does not ignore the issues faced in policing in the 2020’s. I’m delighted I requested this and received it as a Goodreads giveaway! Well done.

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