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Here is the police version of what happened that I posted last night:

“As officers arrived, the suspect turned towards the officers and started to walk towards them, clutching his waistband. He then pulled out a knife in what we describe as an overhand grip, and told the officers: ‘Shoot me now, kill me now’.”

Additionally, he was said to be within four feet of the officers. However, Sam Dotson, the chief of St Louis’s metropolitan police, mentioned that the general rule is that someone with a knife is a threat within a 21-foot area. In other words, it doesn’t take very long to close a short amount of distance, especially with a knife. For instance, consider this instructive video to show how easily someone can close the gap:

Then there is the cell phone video, which they released because they felt it was “exculpatory.” Warning: It’s graphic in nature.

Now, last night on CNN, Sam Dotson St. Louis metropolis chief of police, was on television discussing the case. He said, “The officers did what you or I would do.” He also said, “We didn’t have to release the tape.” Well, thank you for your graciousness.

Let’s list what makes a police officer and someone like me different:

  1. I do not have a badge. A badge means I am the enforcer of the law, which carries a lot of power, responsibility and necessary mutual trust behind it.
  2. I do not have training in the use of weaponry. I do not have training in dealing with violent or potentially violent individuals. I do not have this training as prerequisite to the first difference posted above.
  3. Risk. By deciding to become a cop and undergo such training to be able to wear such a powerful badge is to assume risk. This is what is meant by “protect and serve.” If they are not assuming any risk and “officer safety” takes predominance, then what’s the point of a police officer? To be after-the-crime stenographers?

And therefore, no, Sam Dotson, chief of police, those officers should not be doing what I would do in that situation. Because they are trained to react differently. They are trained to de-escalate. And they are trained to use deadly force as the last possible resort when all other options are exhausted or if in a purely self-defense situation.

If the training is to shoot 15 rounds into a man within 15 seconds of  rolling up to the stop, shoot more after he’s already down on the ground, and then handcuff him while he’s clearly dead and still train your gun on the corpse, then clearly the departmental policies are flawed.

Moreover, none of that even addresses the point that when someone is coming at you, saying, “Shoot me now, shoot me now, kill me,” you don’t oblige them. They’re clearly seeking a suicide-by-cop, which speaks to his reported mental illness history and/or learning difficulties. At that point, I would think retreating and containing would be a better option than deadly force from the get-go. Or a Taser.

And going back to the instructional video about knifing above, it would seem even more imperative for those officers to have put distance between Powell and themselves.

Let’s also not lose sight of the point here: The reason this is flaring up is because the officers released the tape thinking it was basically axiomatic that it would be thought of as self-defense, but their accounting of what happened doesn’t necessarily align with the video evidence.

Consider Ezra Klein’s point about the discrepancies to which Conor Friedersdorf also agreed with:

​The police arrive and instantly escalate the situation… Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous. But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car… They don’t seem to know how to stop Powell, save for using deadly force. But all Powell had was a steak knife. If the police had been in their car, with the windows rolled up, he could have done little to hurt them…

…Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs… He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance. They begin yelling at him to stop. And when they begin shooting, they shoot to kill—even continuing to shoot when Powell is motionless on the ground. There is no warning shot, even. It does not seem like it should be so easy to take a life.

Emphasis is mine.

There is a fundamental problem in police officers and how they handle confrontations and encounters with those suffering from mental illness. Too many stories circulate about how often they are gunned down. De-escalation doesn’t seem to be occurring. It certainly didn’t occur here in the span of 15 seconds.

I particularly liked Chris Connelly’s bit from his blog, which I found also through Friedersdorf:

I suspect the protocol in Britain would be to park at a relatively distance, order civilians to get back, call for back-up and specialist assistance, while monitoring to ensure that Mr. Powell poses no threat to himself or anybody else. What caused the situation to escalate to the point that the police felt so threatened that they needed to open fire in a mentally ill man carrying a knife at his side was the arrival of the police. There is a serious problem in how US police perceive and deal with “threats.” Mentally-ill people, even ones with knives, are primarily a threat to themselves.

On the other hand, a Redditor offered this counterpoint that I felt contextualized the scenario a bit:

They did not empty their clips. They shot 4-5 rounds in a very short period of time each. Their mags carry about 11 rounds so they actually stopped firing right when they were supposed to.

If you want to argue 9-10x is a lot then you’re thinking from your perspective not theirs. In that short span of time the officers do not have time to check with one another for who fired where, what hit, and how many times they each fired. They fired until he fell.

So, why did they fire after he fell? Adrenaline. That man was prepared for them, probably working up a ton of adrenaline. Any scenario like that has adrenaline pumping on both sides. They didn’t know how many bullets were fired or how many hit and where they hit. They also didn’t know if he’d get up and attack them. It’s a gray area but they put 2-3 rounds in him when he hit the ground because of 2 reasons….

  • 1: They thought he was a threat who might get up.
  • 2: It happened so fast it took their mind a second to come out of the haze and go “whoa, whoa he’s down, stop”.

The officers stopping when they did (when most would simply unload) shows restraint as opposed to blood lust or getting lost in the moment. You have to remember, officers are people too. They have families, homes to return to, and when they get afraid for their lives they’ll act in defense of it just like anyone else would. Training in this situation helped them stop firing but in reality you cannot train yourself for the intense emotions those two officers felt when they shot that man. 

It’s interesting to think about, but at the very least, I think the presumption on the police’s behalf that the video was “exculpatory” is a bit arrogant.

The police report is pictured above this post for your consideration.

3 thoughts on “More on the Killing of Kajieme Powell

  1. Okay…let’s add a few images to your videos — if you think people have a strong enough stomach

    http://mjm.luckygunner.com/2010/09/14/interview-with-jurors-at-your-murder-trial-after-they-convict-you/comment-page-1/

    I do not have a badge. A badge means I am the enforcer of the law, which carries a lot of power, responsibility and necessary mutual trust behind it.

    Okay..let’s address this one. Isn’t it everyone’s responsibility to enforce the social compact? If I was on the street watching you get stabbed; would you want me to say “Sorry, I’m not a cop but I’ll call one and watch until they get here.”?
    Or would you rather I take action to stop a crime in progresss?

    We have forgotten one of Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Police — the police are the people and the people are the police.

    I do not have training in the use of weaponry.I do not have training in dealing with violent or potentially violent individuals.

    So get some! Basically you are saying not only are you untrained in how to defend yourself or others but is an excuse not to act?
    Again how does this make sense as a good thing? The police have training yes but anyone with a modicum of self defense training or even school yard fights should be able to help out, right?

    By deciding to become a cop and undergo such training to be able to wear such a powerful badge is to assume risk. This is what is meant by “protect and serve.” If they are not assuming any risk and “officer safety” takes predominance, then what’s the point of a police officer?

    I’m mostly with you on this one but the risk isn’t just to the officers. Count how many people are standing around watching this unfold. How many homes are near by? Any children there, school about to get out? Day care?

    The police assume the risk yes, they don’t have to be unthinking in it nor should they be overly willing to risk their lives. The man was violent, threatening and did not appear to be willing to stop — why shouldn’t they believe the only way to stop him would be lethal force?

    If you come after me saying “You are going to have to shoot me” and have a knife in your hand — I’m darn sure going to believe you !!

    They’re clearly seeking a suicide-by-cop, which speaks to his reported mental illness history and/or learning difficulties.

    BUNK !!
    You can diagnosis someone’s mental status in 17 seconds while shouting commands for him to stop?
    You can tell the difference between mental illness, high on drugs, suicidal, rage filled, drunk, just plain willing to hurt people in 17 seconds ??? How about someone who is trying to kill cops due to what happened just down the road???
    BUNK!

    At that point, I would think retreating and containing would be a better option than deadly force from the get-go. Or a Taser.

    Where do they run away to?
    The store where the people are? The homes around them? Down the street?

    Just where is a safe place for them to go?

    But all Powell had was a steak knife. If the police had been in their car, with the windows rolled up, he could have done little to hurt them…

    Okay….I already addressed the fact that officers have a responsibility to protect the people — but not legally (long story)– how about a simple experiment?
    After you sign a waiver releasing me of all liability I will attempt to attack you only using a steak knife? Erza? Connor? You agree?

    There is no warning shot, even.

    THIS IS IDIOCY OF THE FIRST DEGREE. A warning shot? IN the middle of an established neighborhood with people all around! Seriously idiotic to even suggest it.

    It does not seem like it should be so easy to take a life.
    And if this jerk thinks it is easy; he should come face to face with life and death decision and have to live with the aftermath. It is incredibly difficult to take a life. S

    But the same factors; the effectiveness of firearms, the ability to fire multiple rounds SAVES lives. Just who thinks this guy would have gone for if the police hadn’t shown up? Some mom walking the kids to the park? A teenager mouthing off to the crazy guy on the street?

    There is a fundamental problem in police officers and how they handle confrontations and encounters with those suffering from mental illness.

    Hindsight is 20/20 and it is incredibly easy to Monday Morning Quarter back. Again I propose you sign a waiver of liability and we re-create the incident — You using simunitions, after all I don’t want to die — and me using a knife…willing to put your life on the line to determine my motivations?
    At what point does motivation stop mattering? when the criminal is sticking a knife in your neck? When he threatens to kill someone?
    Would it matter to the family of the officers if they were killed by a mentally ill person instead of ‘just a criminal’?

    Bob S.

    • I agree that there’s a fine line we should be walking because the problem with police militarization is that they’ve gotten too far away from the fact that they are indeed still “civilians.” They are just civilians tasked with a great responsibility and a responsibility they should respect. Although, you do seem to be suggesting, in part, some form of vigilantism? I’m not saying someone without any training or fighting skill shouldn’t try to act in response to a case of self-defense sans police involvement — you have to protect yourself and you can’t reasonably always wait for a police response — but the entire point of having a functioning police force in a society is that they — being police officers — assume more risk than I should. Likewise, that doesn’t mean I should expect them to be martyrs for my life.

      As for those around Powell, including the store clerk that called the police on him, they didn’t seem to be in any danger to me because the escalation didn’t occur until the police arrived. Because, again, clearly he was hell-bent on a suicide-by-cop scenario. Seemed to me the clerk was distraught at the outcome, but that’s just a musing. Anyway, I also don’t mean to say that the officers that answered the call should be able to diagnose Powell as having mental deficiencies. I meant only to say that his history of mental illness informed his desire to confront the police and die-by-cop. However, there is a good and sound argument to be made that if we hadn’t gotten so far removed from the community policing model, then the police officers would have been aware of Powell’s mental health history and could have reacted accordingly (by not using deadly force from the get-go). Because apparently his mental illness was well-known among the community itself.

      I don’t mean that the cops “run” away, but to put distance between themselves and Powell. Instead, they roll up and immediately present themselves within close distance of Powell. Hell, as I think Conor suggested, they could have stayed in their vehicles. A man with a knife ain’t going to be effective against those windows. I also think it’s worth considering that the British likely follow this “retreat and call in a specialist” model. And it works, apparently.

      Agreed about the warning shot. I’ve never heard of that before.

      Not to speak for Ezra, but I think he’s implying the expedited manner by which it happened. Within 15 seconds of approaching a scene, a man was dead. That’s incredibly fast, albeit things like this tend to move incredibly fast. I agree that unless you’re a psychopath that enjoys killing people, taking a life is not easy.

      And it’s not hindsight. There’s well-documented cases all over the country that speak to police department policy and training inadequacy in dealing with individuals suffering from a mental illness.

      • Although, you do seem to be suggesting, in part, some form of vigilantism?

        NO, I am not suggesting vigilantism. I’m suggesting that the people of the community should have helped stopped this before it became a police matter. You talk about the community model of policing but long before policing got started people took care of each other.
        Especially if his mental illness was well known. NOT ONE PERSON tried to stop him, NOT one person tried to talk him down, NOT One person was there suggesting they sit down and talk. NOT ONE.
        NOT One tried to use a taser, pepper spray, baseball bat, anything to stop him. NOT ONE.

        And you complain that the very guns they called to the scene were used???

        you have to protect yourself and you can’t reasonably always wait for a police response — but the entire point of having a functioning police force in a society is that they — being police officers — assume more risk than I should.

        I understand what you are trying to say but I disagree with the approach. If that makes sense. Yes, the police are paid to take that risk but it is the risk we should all have and take. If it was your son/brother/uncle/father on the street; would you try to talk him down?
        We’ve gotten away from the idea of self-responsibility and want to pass it off to others — the criminal robbing my home isn’t my responsibility, the police will come. The person who just robbed my neighbor and is standing their in the parking lot isn’t my responsibility — he’s someone else. In the mean time; how many people get stabbed or car jacked in similar situations?

        Aren’t we supposed to be our Brother’s Keeper?

        Instead, they roll up and immediately present themselves within close distance of Powell.
        BUNK.

        Powell walked approximately 15 to 20 feet to get to the light pole, the light pole was still maybe 7 to 10 feet away from the cruiser. Hard to tell. So again — where should the police who were CALLED TO DEAL with a community problem stop in order to deal with that problem?

        A man with a knife ain’t going to be effective against those windows.<

        And HOW do the police know the person who just committed a crime is only armed with a knife? Or that he would only attack them or their car?
        You are using hindsight to make your argument; the police had to work with what they KNEW at the time. They didn't know his mental state, they didn't know if he was armed or not.

        And it’s not hindsight. There’s well-documented cases all over the country that speak to police department policy and training inadequacy in dealing with individuals suffering from a mental illness.

        YOU are accusing the police in this case of not dealing adequately with a mentally ill person. That fact is discovered ONLY in hindsight.

        Unless the police call went out with particulars about that person, the officers could not be held responsible for knowing about his mental illness or not.

        Everyone wants to tell officers how to do their jobs but no one seems willing to step up and make it unnecessary for the officers to act.
        By the way, consider this – Supreme Court has determined that police officers do not have any responsibility to protect an individual. So the cops roll up, stay in their car and someone gets killed — the cops are immune from lawsuits.

        Not an alternative I would want. You?

        Bob S.

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