Yesterday morning, there was a shooting in New York City by the Empire State Building that left two dead and nine wounded. We quickly learned that one man killed a former co-worker and was then killed by police. Tim Cavanaugh at Reason speculated that some or all of the injured bystanders may have been shot by the cops, and the Associated Press is now suggesting the same thing:
The bystanders likely were hit by police officers’ stray gunfire, some of it bullets that rebounded off planters in front of the skyscraper and grazed pedestrians.
The two officers fired 16 shots. The surveillance video shows Johnson pointing his weapon at police, but it’s likely he did not get a chance to fire, investigators said.
There are corners of the Internet devoted to detailing all the terrible things that happen at the hand of law enforcement officers. Usually it has to do with extreme police brutality; sometimes it has to do with accidents or close calls; I’m sure there’s a blog somewhere dedicated to listing all the times cops run red lights. These folks are convinced that too many police officers are trigger-happy, adrenaline-laced control freaks whose crimes and mistakes are compounded by a corrupt bureaucracy that protects them from prosecution.
I tend to avoid these places because I believe that most police officers are “good people” who never harm the citizens they serve, and since it’s easier to find stories about the bad incidents I don’t want to disproportionately subject myself to those and give myself an unhealthy perspective. But I spend enough time seeking out news and opinions on the Internet that I am unable to completely avoid these stories.
Did you hear about the Mississippi officer who shot six times at a chained dog? Or the Texas officer who shot and killed a family dog? What about the New Jersey officer who was suspended for trying to stop two other officers from beating a disabled man?
What about Kelly Thomas, who screamed for his father while five cops beat him to death? Or Patricia Cook, shot to death by a deranged alcoholic with a badge? Or Andrew Scott, killed during a wrong-door raid? Or Nick Christie, gagged and pepper-sprayed to death by prison guards? Or Seth Adams, shot four times by a cop behind his family business, then left to die? Or Wendell Allen, who was unarmed when a New Orleans cop shot and killed him during a raid?… [SOURCE: Reason.com]
It’s hard to hear these stories and not wonder if we haven’t ceded a little too much power and authority to the folks with the badges. It seems like the oops cost is getting pretty high these days. Yet still I hesitate to jump to conclusions.
“Monday morning quarterbacks” are non-football-players who argue after the game about how the players should have responded differently. I think a lot of people on the Internet play “Monday morning cop,” bringing their biases to a situation when they don’t have all the facts and explaining exactly how the officers should have or not have acted in a brief and fast-paced incident. Sometimes statements made by officers don’t seem to make sense with the facts presented in the articles. People may have good reason to doubt the officers, but they often forget they should treat reporters with the same skepticism – the facts may be wrong or incomplete.
The latest uproar has been about an Arkansas man who died in the back of a police car, supposedly by killing himself with a gun. While handcuffed. After police had searched him for weapons. Sounds like a classic tall tale of police covering for another unarmed shooting of a civilian, right? Well, now the police say they have evidence that the man called his girlfriend while he was in the backseat and said he had a gun, and that he may have slipped the gun in there when they put him in the car before they handcuffed and searched him. Or something. There’s still plenty for a skeptic to be suspicious about, but you can see how it only takes a couple of new facts to change a story from “definitely police brutality” to “nothing definite at all.”
So now we have a couple officers who shot and killed a murderer in a busy public place and “only” ricocheted several bystanders with wounds that were at best “light” and at worst “non-life-threatening.” The Monday morning cops are already saying the officers shouldn’t have fired first or at least warned the man they were gonna shoot. What if they did? Or what if the man really did fire a shot? It’s too early to be making such conclusions.
But sometimes it’s so hard not to play Monday morning cop. Seriously. Did the two officers really have to fire sixteen shots at one guy in such a public place? Really, guys? Sixteen shots?
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