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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.