Tag: Police Shootings

The Death of Daniel Shaver

In early 2016, pest-control specialist Daniel Shaver was a in a hotel drinking with two friends he’d picked up and showing off a pellet gun he used for his job. Someone saw him at the window and called the police. What resulted was a police officer shooting Shaver to death. The officer was acquitted last week and the judge released the body cam video of the shooting. If you can stomach it, here it is:

If you can’t watch — which I understand — I’ll tell you what happens. Shaver — drunk, scared, crying and begging the officers not to shoot him — is trying to comply with the barked orders of one of the officers, which are often contradictory and confusing. As he begins crawling toward the officers, he reaches back — possibly to pull up his pants. At that point, the officer with the camera shoots him five times, killing him. The officer who shot him was removed from the force at least in part for etching “You’re Fucked” in the barrel of his rifle.

Patterico, a prosecutor, gives as good a defense of the shooting as can be given here, citing videos that were often deceptive as to what was happening. It’s a fair analysis but I disagree with it. There were multiple officers at the scene; there was no indication of a second gunman; telling Shaver that if he moved the wrong way he’d get shot was a grossly unreasonable demand to make. Patterico’s analysis illustrates, once again, the underlying problem with police-civilian confrontations: untrained civilians are expected to react perfectly and not make a single mistake; trained police officers are allowed leeway for mistakes and errors. We’ll break down shootings like the Zapruder film to illustrate “mistakes” the victim made that justified the shooting; but we won’t hold officers to the same standard.

What we see in the video is the result of the aggressive training police officers have been getting in recent years (one of which is literally called “Bulletproof Warrior”). They are told to see every movement as a potential attack — this at a time when shooting of police officers and assaults on officers are at an all-time low. And they react accordingly.

The reason for the acquittal is that juries have been told, based on Supreme Court precedent, that a shooting is justified if the police are in fear of their lives. Note that there’s no requirement that the fear be reasonable. Or that the fear not be a result of their own previous actions. If police needlessly provoke a confrontation that results in a civilian getting shot, all the jury needs to consider is what was going on at the moment of the shooting, not all the mistakes that led up to that. In the Tamir Rice incident, for example, the fact that the police roared up in a car, jumped out and opened fire was considered irrelevant. All that mattered was that Rice made some motion that could possible be interpreted as dangerous (the avoidance of which would have required superhuman reflex control on his part).

This, again, is not a standard that applies to civilians. Had Daniel Shaver shot an officer under similar circumstances, he’d be on death row. Had Shafer needlessly provoked or confronted the officers, he’d be held responsible.

I don’t know what we can do to stop this. Over a thousand civilians are killed by police every year, accounting for one-third of the stranger killings in the US. Granted, sometimes those a unavoidable; there are people who decided to attack cops. But over and over again, we see avoidable shootings for which no one is held responsible.

(One rare exception was the Walter Scott shooting. Officer Slager was recently found guilty of murder and sent to prison. But this is hardly a vindication. Slager was caught on cell phone video shooting a fleeing unarmed man in the back. Before that video emerged, he was well on his way to acquittal, claiming that he shot Scott when the latter grabbed his taser (even falsely claiming to have performed CPR). Had it not been for the civilian taking video, I doubt he would have even been charged.)

We need a serious change in how we approach policing in this country. Our methods are designed to deal with crime rates of 30 years ago, which were double what they are now. No, scratch that. They were designed to deal with a supposed wave of superpredators and monsters that never emerged. Until things change, people will continue to die and distrust of the police will continue to grow.

Five Dead in Dallas

Pure awfulness:

Five police officers were killed and seven others were injured in the ambush, which began during a protest over police violence Thursday night, officials have said. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians also were injured in the shootings, the Dallas mayor’s office said.

The deadly gunfire erupted in Dallas as videos showing two African-American men shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota spurred protests and debate over police use of force across the country.

Brown told reporters it’s too soon to speculate on the suspect’s motives, and it’s unclear whether more suspects are on the loose.

At least one shooter was killed when a robot detonated a bomb he had on him. Three more are in custody. There’s aspect of this that are still unclear, but it was clearly a targeted attack. There’s a video out there of one of the killer stalking and shooting a cop to death.

Up until the shooting, the protest in Dallas was peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, that officers were not wearing riot gear and were shaking hands and posing for pictures with protesters to show their support for better community relations:

This is actually not a surprise. Dallas has been on the leading edge of police reform for some time. Since 2009, they have been emphasizing community involvement and de-escalation of dangerous situations. The results are astonishing. Huge drops in complaints of excessive force and police brutality. Huge drops in violent crime. Dallas was and is a city where things are going right. This would be pointless awfulness anywhere. But is especially painful to see this happen to a police force that has embraced the idea of reform and become one of the best in the country as a direct result.

We don’t know anything about the killers yet. There has been some ham-handed effort to connect this to Black Lives Matter, but that’s mostly a peaceful movement. The shooters themselves say they are not connected to a group, but this sounds way too coordinated and planned for a spontaneous event. What I’m reminded of more than anything is the Charleston church shooting. That guy wanted to start a race war. I suspect these guys did as well.

Yesterday, I wrote about police violence and the need for reform. I stand by what I said. Simple Justice:

There is nothing inconsistent about mourning the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, while simultaneously mourning the murders of five Dallas cops and wounding of another six, who might have died but for where the bullets happened to strike.

Today is a day for grownups to talk the children off the ledge. These four shooters in Dallas do not reflect the Black Lives Matters movement, and any screaming that it proves anything is absurd. At the same time, there is no justification for the murder of these Dallas cops. The deaths of black men at the hands of police does not mean killing random cops is a legitimate response. Ever.

A concept that has been raised is that we now live in a fact-free democracy, where feelings have replaced facts and reason to guide our actions. This is what comes of your “passion,” death. The toxic mix of passion, anger, self-righteousness and ignorance will solve nothing. As the New York Times asked, when will the killings stop? They will stop when we stop indulging our base instinct to do as we feel instead of as we think. If we can’t get past our indulgence of mindless, simplistic emotional indulgence, the number of dead bodies will continue to grow.

I said yesterday that there was no War on Cops. That is still true. Back in the 70’s, this sort of things happened on a semi-regular basis. And parts of our society cheered it. That is thankfully no longer the case.

But … this is a reminder that the huge decline in anti-police violence and murders of police was not inevitable and is not guaranteed to last. Society is always a few steps away from chaos and bloodshed. If we are to keep policing safer than it has been since the 19th century, that means condemning violence of any kind, punishing those who commit violence and supporting the right of the police to do their job without being killed.

Five men are dead. Seven more are wounded. Lives are shattered. Blood is on the floor. Killing is wrong whether it happens at the hands of a cop or the hands of someone who hates cops. Let’s not let these shooters win and tear things apart. Let’s respond the way we did to the Charleston shooter: by working even harder to stop violence against anyone.