Saturday, 23 August 2014

RIP Gerry Anderson: Hypno Hen

Rest in Peace Gerry, you were a broadcasting genius.

Do What You're Told And You Won't Get Hurt

The deaths of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell in St. Louis have bothered me. They have bothered me not so much for their details, though I hope for the families of both men that when all the evidence emerges and is weighed that they feel the conclusions arrived at have delivered justice, but because of what they say, when taken together.

For that reason, as odd as it sounds, I want to set aside the arguments about whether Officer Darren Wilson and the two officers in the Powell case were justified in firing the bullets that killed these two men, though that is surely what the trial in the former case and the investigation in the latter will focus on.  I want to look at the total number of bullets fired, and what it says.

As I pointed out in my last blog post, police in Britain fired their weapons three times last year.  In both the Brown and Powell cases, at least three times that number of bullets appear to have been fired in each incident.  This is the aspect that worries me: multiple eye witnesses report that after some sort of scuffle at the police car, during which Wilson's gun was discharged, Brown set off running, and Wilson shot at him as he fled.  Forget what happened next and think about that for a moment.  If the eye witnesses are to be believed, and we now have so many that they are all part of a vast police-hating racially motivated conspiracy (and I am sure there are those who will want to believe that), Officer Wilson shot at Mike Brown as he ran away.  When two police officers fired at least nine bullets into Kajieme Powell at close range, three of these were fired while he was on the ground.  Both of these facts on their own should cause alarm, indeed outrage, among the public at large. In the sad circumstances of the deaths of these two men, however, it is a minor detail, though to me it speaks to the bigger problem.

As is stated in the British police college's guidelines on the discharge of firearms, and very graphically illustrated in the video at the bottom of page 1 of this piece in The Atlantic, (humblebrag: my last blog post got a mention on page 2, and in this Al Jazeera piece) that police officers do not shoot to wound, they shoot to incapacitate, and that can only effectively be done with an unholstered weapon at a distance of 21 feet or more, aiming at the torso.  "Incapacitate" is often expressed in the U.S. by police officers and gun enthusiasts as "neutralize the threat".  I find that worrying like a euphemism for "shoot dead".  Kajieme Powell was indeed close to the officers that shot him.  They could not have missed.  I believe they are trained to open fire with a "double tap".  A 'double tap' at the range in question is going to incapacitate. A 'double tap' is going to neutralize the threat.  A 'double tap' is probably going to kill.  The 9 or 10 bullets fired into Kajieme Powell, including a number while he was on the ground, are going to ensure that.  Threat neutralized indeed.

I will confess I have little appreciation for the stresses police officers in the U.S., or the U.K. for that matter, work under.  They do what is certainly a stressful and at times dangerous job.  32 of them died in the line of duty from gunshot wounds last year.  An even greater number died in Road Traffic Accidents.  What degree of risk the public can expect an officer to take while protecting the public is difficult to quantify.  I worry that too many in the Police believe the answer is none.

This opinion piece in the Washington Post by a 17-year veteran of the L.A.P.D. illustrates the point:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Worlds Apart

Ezra Klein hits the nail on the head re all that is wrong with policing in America:

"There is something wrong that the video seems obviously exculpatory to the police and obviously damning to so many who watch it."

Those with professional knowledge can speak to it better than me, but I suspect the protocol in Britain would be to park at a relatively safe 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 on 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. [UPDATE: The Police stated Kajieme Powell charged at them and he was carrying a steak knife. It was being reported in Twitter last night that it was a table or butter knife).