This is just a quick post for all the news media people who might find themselves reading my blog.
The term "unarmed" gets used a lot by news organizations. There may be some contexts when it is useful and meaningful. For instance if the primary consideration is military, such as the expression "unarmed soldiers." But even here there are potential problems because to report on the interactions between soldiers and other soldiers or soldiers and civilians it is important to give a complete legal framework for readers to understand specifically what relevance those terms have to the given context. Because without the legal framework those terms are at best irrelevant, and at worse misleading.
Another context when "unarmed" might be relevant is in the context of Second Amendment Constitutional rights. For instance when pointing out that someone has the right to be armed, but happens to be unarmed by choice.
But in the vast majority of cases when news reporters and organizations use the term "unarmed" they are referring to a person in conflict with another civilian or with an authority figure like a police officer. This term is completely inappropriate for these situations. It is also profoundly misleading. The relevant terms are well established by statute and case law in the United States. Those terms are "intent," "means," and "opportunity." Those are the key terms we as readers need to know about and consider.
Why? because whether a person is unarmed is only relevant after having considered those three terms. If a threat has the intent to harm, but no means, and no opportunity to harm, then obviously there is no basis for a police officer or a civilian to use force to neutralize that threat. And again, if a threat has intent and opportunity, but no means; or intent and means but no opportunity, then there is no basis for using force to neutralize the threat.
Which brings us to a third term which probably should be used in news reports more often so that people become familiar with it, that term is preclusion. Preclusion is the discussion about what a reasonable person would have done having had similar training under similar circumstances. It is also the discussion about what other alternative actions were available to the parties in question and why they weren't taken.
Please update your vocabulary accordingly.
And thank you for your service!