Monday Morning Thoughts: An Eerily Similar Shooting

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Vigil for Jessica Williams
Vigil for Jessica Williams

There are common denominators in a lot of these police shootings and the killing of Jessica Williams last week, which led to the resignation of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, follows one of those scripts.

She was driving what was suspected to be a stolen vehicle, and a special enforcement unit attempted to arrest her after spotting the car mid-morning.  The woman would drive away before officers could speak to her, but got only 100 feet because she crashed into a parked truck.

According to media accounts, the car became wedged beneath the truck, and instead of complying with police orders, she attempted to dislodge it in order to drive away.  That is when the police officer, a sergeant, fired one shot, striking and ultimately killing her.

Once again, no weapons had been found on the woman. Police said there was no indication that she had attempted to drive the car towards officers when she was shot.  Further investigation is underway.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi called the shooting disturbing and unacceptable.

“She was entitled to due process and, above all, she was entitled to her life,” Mr. Adachi said in a statement. “Police reforms and policy changes are meaningless if they aren’t accompanied by a major shift in police culture, away from shooting first and asking questions later.”

Mayor Ed Lee said police shootings have “shaken and divided our city, and tensions between law enforcement and communities of color that have simmered for too many years have come into full view. … The community is grieving, and I join them in that grief.”

The death of Ms. Williams marks the third individual killed by San Francisco police since last December. The DOJ is currently reviewing the San Francisco Police Department after officers killed Mario Woods in December of last year.

Autopsies showed that Mr. Woods was hit by more than 20 shots.  Police claim that the autopsy corroborated the investigation.  “It is difficult for anyone to watch videos of the shooting. Similarly, it is equally as difficult to read the Medical Examiner’s report,” the statement said. “That said, newly released information in the autopsy report appears to corroborate facts gathered by investigators in the aftermath of this tragic incident.”

According to a statement from the ACLU in the wake of the Woods shooting, “Video of the incident, which reveals Woods trying to walk away from the officers, does not appear to show the imminent danger or substantial risk of death or serious injury that would permit the use of a firearm under SFPD policy. The video also raises questions about the officers’ decision-making and actions prior to use of the firearm and whether proper de-escalation tactics were employed.”

As we noted, San Francisco joins Baltimore and Chicago as major cities who have had their chiefs dismissed due to high profile incidents, or a string of incidents.

An April report in Chicago concludes, “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

To me, that line from the Chicago report is the key linkage in most of these cases.  There seems to be a lack of regard by police for the sanctity of life when it comes to the handling of admittedly difficult circumstances.

The death of Sandra Bland may or may not have occurred as officials stated, but it is clear that the state trooper in that case precipitated the incident.  The video shows that the trooper escalated the confrontation with Ms. Bland after she refused his request to put out a cigarette. At one point, Trooper Brian Encinia says he will forcibly remove Ms. Bland from her car and threatens her with a Taser, saying, “I will light you up.”

The death of Walter Scott in South Carolina has a video that shows Mr. Scott, who had been uncooperative in his encounter, walking away when he was shot.  The death of Freddie Gray resulted from the police failing to administer medical attention in time. The death of Laquan McDonald resulted from two officers shooting Mr. McDonald shortly after arriving on the scene.  The death of Tamir Rice resulted from two officers shooting a young boy in the park, when dispatch failed to notify the officers that the gun was likely a toy gun.

In some cases there was a lack of cooperation by the ultimate victim.  In several of these cases there were attempts to lie and cover up, that were exposed by video.

That has led to a movement to push for body-worn cameras on all police officers – a movement that is gaining more and traction as police and civil rights groups alike see the advantage.

However, the point that Jeff Adachi makes is critical: “Police reforms and policy changes are meaningless if they aren’t accompanied by a major shift in police culture, away from shooting first and asking questions later.”

These shootings continue to occur even in departments where videos are prevalent.  These shootings continue to occur despite heightened awareness.  What is needed is to change the culture of police departments.  Shootings have to be an absolute last resort.  They have to occur when all other resources and recourse, including leaving the scene, is exhausted – and they must occur only in response to a direct threat.

There are certainly interesting debates over which side police officers ought to err on, but part of the problem that police face – and was evident in the report on Chicago – is there are high crime areas where residents need protection by the police. However, the police response to violence “is not sufficiently imbued with Constitutional policing tactics and is also comparatively void of actual procedural and restorative justice in the day-to-day encounters between the police and citizens.”

The report found that those practices undermine the job that police need to do – the community’s lack of trust results in the lack of cooperation by the community in helping the police to stop crime.

In short, we need to change the way these department operate because it is hindering their ability to do their job.

Yesterday’s article on the lack of good data on police shootings dovetails with emerging thought that the lack of transparent police oversight and accountability only further this divide.  If the problems are this deep in a progressive city like San Francisco, I suspect the problem goes far deeper than we have acknowledged to date.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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20 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: An Eerily Similar Shooting”

  1. Biddlin

    ” I suspect the problem goes far deeper than we have acknowledged to date.”

    If only someone had been keeping you abreast of the situation.

  2. Biddlin

    The police in America have been out of hand for decades. As I pointed out yesterday, the number of civilians killed by US cops is so insanely disproportionate to any other country on the planet, that thinking people would have been questioning the causes long ago. It is not news. Were it not for concerned citizens and fame seeking teenagers posting their cellphone videos the infotainment media would not have bothered with the story.

  3. The Pugilist

    Adachi’s point is right on – we can put tools in place, but we have to change the mentality of the police to shoot first and ask questions later.

    1. hpierce

      Agreed… and it would help if all officers were wearing ‘body armor’, so they could feel more secure waiting, without having to worry so much about spouse, family, and themselves…

      1. Biddlin

        Huh? Are you saying that the cops worries for themselves and their families makes them trigger happy? You know that cops have a much safer job than cabbies, or 7/11 clerks or tree trimmers or aircraft mechanics or utility linepersons or commercial fishers, right?

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          And the recent report indicates that the killing of cops are near historic lows and yet the reverse does not seem to be the case.

        2. Barack Palin

          Cops have a very dangerous job.  All of you that say they don’t try approaching a car at night alone in a bad neighborhood full of four young men.  Some of you are sounding like arm chair warriors hiding behind your computer screens.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Police have a dangerous job – that is considerably less dangerous than it once was.

        3. Frankly

          […]  So you are only going to allow justification for fear of being hurt or killed by the numbers that are?  So being a soldier must not be too dangerous then since the ratio of dead to living does not measure up.

          […] you lose all credibility on this topic.

          And when counting the number of dead cops, try counting only the number of actual patrol officers and also include the numbers that commit suicide after having to deal with so much human scum …
          [moderator] edited. Please do not make personal attacks on Vanguard participants.

        4. South of Davis

          Biddlin wrote:

          > You know that cops have a much safer job than

          > cabbies, or 7/11 clerks or tree trimmers

          The reason that less cops die than say tree trimmers is that tree trimmers spend hours each day doing dangerous stuff (like hanging upside down from a tree with a running chainsaw) and cops only spend minutes a day doing dangerous stuff (like walking up to the car full of gang members owned by a guy on parole for shooting a cop).

          Davis wrote:

          > the recent report indicates that the killing of

          > cops are near historic lows

          I have read many “reports” that put a cop that was driving too fast and ran off the road in the same “killed on the job” category as a cop that was shot by a gang member while walking down the street.  One of the main reasons that less cops (and cabbies) are getting “killed on the job” are safer cars with ABS brakes and airbags (cops get in and out a lot and many of them don’t wear seatbelts so airbags have helped save a lot fo cops).

        5. The Pugilist

          The FBI report from this month only looked at shootings.  It also separated out shootings from shooting deaths to control for the factor that you cited.

  4. Napoleon Pig IV

    We are a country that sanctions the use of lethal military power without a declaration of war by Congress, and that tolerates a President murdering people by drone without oversight or judicial review. Isn’t it a logical extrapolation for ordinary police officers to feel empowered to use force at their whim against mere citizens who are misbehaving? Oink!

  5. Frankly

    And the recent report indicates that the killing of cops are near historic lows and yet the reverse does not seem to be the case.

    The numbers that the cops kill is correlated to the number of violent people on the streets.

    Demading that the cops stand down results in more violent people on the streets and more dead people.

    You seem to be fine with that.

    1. Biddlin

      “The numbers that the cops kill is correlated to the number of violent people on the streets.”

      Really? Have any evidence or is this more of your famous “common sense fact?”

       

      1. South of Davis

        Biddlin wrote:

        > Have any evidence or is this more of your

        > famous “common sense fact?”

        I don’t think that Biddlin can name a single city with a lot of violent people that has LESS people shooting at cops that a city with few violent people.  Yes it is a “common sense fact” (kind of like “towns with a lot of rain have wet streets more often”)…

        Atherton CA has almost no violent people and has never had a cop killed while Oakland, CA has a lot of violent people and has a lot of cop killings over the years. Bloomfield Hills, MI has a lot less people shooting at cops than Detroit, MI…

        1. Biddlin

          Sorry, I can’t figure out your point or parameters. Very few cops get shot or killed on the job and that fraction seems to be diminishing, at the same time as the number of civilians shot and killed annually by cops is up 44% since 2011.

  6. Biddlin

    ” One of the main reasons that less cops (and cabbies) are getting “killed on the job” are safer cars with ABS brakes and airbags (cops get in and out a lot and many of them don’t wear seatbelts so airbags have helped save a lot fo cops).”

    Yeah, cabbies are only twice as likely to be murdered on the job as officers, again, how’s this relevant to US cops killing over a thousand people/year?

  7. PhillipColeman

    Taking the story as presented, that this incident involved a property crime (auto theft), and no officer nor nearby citizen was in any immediate peril caused by the suspect’s actions, almost all police departments have policy in place that says no deadly force shall be used. Property crimes, even felonies, are not justification for use of deadly force.

    Assuming this is the policy of the San Francisco Police Department (a strong possibility), then the officer shooting at the suspect with peril provocation would be in violation of regulations. Continuing this assumption, the fact that the shooter was a field supervisor, a presumed veteran, role model, trainer of subordinate officers, and enforcer of rules and regulations, the actions of the sergeant are placed against an even higher standard of appropriate behavior.

  8. Marina Kalugin

    what many who have NOT been in a similar situation, including I am sure many police,  may not understand is what happens when someone ends up in this surreal world when there is an accident….the driver may not be aware of anything exepct being stuck under the truck…and the only thing to focus on is how to get out of the situation.

    police are often paranoid, and rightfully so, but there is a huge disconnect in understanding between those victims,  who end up in such an accident, and the officer who may be hallucinating that he is at risk…

    it is also human nature for the officer to try to cover one’s behind and say whatever is plausible once it is clear an innocent person was shot to death…or I assume innocent until proven guilty..

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