We have been discussing the North St. Louis shooting of Kajieme Powell, who was brandishing a knife and approaching police in a threatening manner shouting “Shoot me now”. The police obliged and it was only due to the transparent and rapid response by Chief Dotson that this situation did not further inflame tensions in nearby Ferguson.
First, I want to elaborate on the editorial position of TTAK of both shootings. Discovering the truth is extremely dificult in the circus environment surrounding Ferguson. My position on Brown simply is that I do not know. The public has little hard evidence beyond the report of Dr. Baden which shows that Brown was shot in the front. Everything else is speculation based on uncorroborated eyewitness testimony, some of which comes from extremely dubious sources. There is no video record, and the police have been less than forthcoming in relating Officer Wilson’s side of the story. He does a tough job and has a presumption of innocence. To state much beyond that based on what little is verifyiably in the public realm is irresponsible at a minimum, or reprehensible if it is meant for ratings or personal agrandizement.
I covered county politics for a local paper when I lived in Idaho. I take my responsibilities as at least a quasi-journalist here at TTAK seriously. Most often it is simply offering my personal stamp of approval (or not) for a knife that our readers may consider spending their hard-earned money on. But sometimes it is offering editorial on knife laws, the TSA, and even topics such as the Gaza War or Ferguson and police militarization. I take the First Amendment as seriously as I do the Second, and try to comport myself accordingly.
One tragedy that goes beyond the personal circumstances of the Brown family, who regardless of what happened are deserving of our prayers, lies in the way the media have been treated by the authorities. I have nothing but contempt for irresponsible reporting, which has made a bad situation worse. But there has been appaling treatment of journalist as well. They have been arrested, hit with tear gas and wooden baton-rounds. There has been a no-fly zone over Ferguson which has denied context to the protests. From what I have read in many sources, the unrest has been limited to a couple of blocks which makes the full-on military style invasion seem even more suspect. But we have no perspective because the Government is denying access to the media.
This quote comes from an article by the ACLU and deals with both Ferguson and the larger media environment that includes Government hacking of journalist’s computers:
“The right to record the actions of the government without it interfering is a basic prerequisite to a functioning democracy. Restrictions on media freedom – whether via surveillance, prosecutions, or tear gas – rob us of the information we need to engage in informed debates, assess our government’s policies and practices, and hold it to account. Journalists aren’t criminals, and they shouldn’t have to act like spies.”
All of this has made it harder for the truth to shine through. The situation has been tainted by all involved to the point where if there are not charges brought against Officer Wilson there will not be peace. However if the evidence does not warrant indictment, then for Officer Wilson to find himself in a courtroom is itself a miscarrage of justice.
This brings me to my reason for posting. I have taken the position that the second shooting in North St. Louis was justified based on the private cell phone video. The suspect had been reported (by a local alderwoman calling 911) as acting erratically and brandishing a knife. It wasn’t until after Powell had ignored repeated demands to “drop the knife” and kept coming aggressively forward and reached an elevated position less than 4′ from the officer that they opened fire. I do not doubt that the Powell at that point represented an immanent threat to the officer.
However, that does not mean that I believe that it was an unavoidable situation, or that robust civilian oversight of police procedures is not a vital part of the process in all cases – especially in officer-involved shootings.
This article in the Daily Banter is relatively balanced in my opinion. It stipulates that tasers are not 100% effective and recognizes that police do have a thankless, dangerous, and often frustrating job. But it is also extremely critical:
“The officers who shot Powell did have a choice. They could have moved away from him. They could have gotten back into their car to protect themselves. They could have run away. All of those options are preferable to killing someone, and those tactics are used in other countries where human life is deemed more valuable than the need to assert authority.
Police protocol in America allows police officers to apply lethal force when there is “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm … to the officer or to others.” So a police officer can basically say, “I thought the guy was a threat, so I killed him”. It’s incredibly subjective, and the broad definition and has lead to the death of around 400 people a year in America, a massively disproportionate number being black. That is compared to zero deaths from police shootings in the England and Wales for 2013/14, and zero police officers killed by attackers.”
(Note: Links within the block quote are from the article quoted. TTAK does not necessarily endorse their content. But I feel that to remove them is to deny their supporting role to the Author’s thesis, and thus they are integral to the quoted piece itself).
If there had been a single responding officer in North StL, then I have virtually no reservations about the shooting. Because a taser is a one-shot weapon, and not 100% effective I would not second guess the decision to opt for the pistol. But the officer had backup, and could have kept his patrol unit between himself and the suspect.
So this leaves the odd situation where I believe that the the officers did act in a justified manner based on established police procedures in the United States. I am just left wondering if there should be a policy when there are multiple officers responding to a suspect without a ranged weapon where using less-lethal means should be attempted. There is room for debate on both sides, but it is a debate worth having. And to have this debate requires a free and unfettered media.
Again in this video, there are multiple officers on-scene and plenty of backup if the taser did not subdue the suspect. So it is admittedly not an apples to apples comparison.