Sunday Commentary: Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

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The death of Tyre King has spawned a number of questions and a debate.  The 13-year-old was shot after he was in a group of people who used a BB gun, that reportedly looked like a real gun, to rob people and then took off running when the police came.

While the police chief of Columbus held up a photo of the gun to demonstrate how real the gun looked, critical details were missing from the actual incident.  The dispatch reported that, while Tyre King removed the gun from his waistband when Officer Bryan Mason chased him, “[i]t’s unclear whether the teen pointed what turned out to be a BB gun at anyone or even raised it.”

Police were responding to a 911 call claiming that a man had been robbed of $10 by armed teens and one of the suspects was carrying a Ruger pistol, which turned out to be a BB gun.

Current use of force guidelines follow from the 1989 Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor, which held that the appropriateness of use of force by officers “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.… The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

Clearly, the police are being asked to make split-second decisions in dynamic and evolving confrontations.

A 1985 Supreme Court case, Tennessee v. Garner, limited when the police could shoot at fleeing suspects, limiting that to times when “the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger to the officer or others in the community.”

“You don’t shoot fleeing felons. You apprehend them unless there are exigent circumstances — emergencies — that require urgent police action to safeguard the community as a whole,” said Greg Gilbertson, a police practices expert and criminal justice professor at Centralia College in Washington State, in a 2015 interview following the shooting of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager in South Carolina.

While an investigation may find that the Tyre King shooting was reasonable under the law, I remain troubled by some of the responses I have seen – after all, we are talking about a 13-year-old who, it turned out, was not armed with an actual gun.

The police chief got up on TV with the photo of the gun as though to act as an immediate defense attorney before her department had completed its investigation.  There is no video of the incident that we know of.

In two fatal shootings, video played a huge role in showing that the use of force by officers was not reasonable.  In the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, the officers’ accounts were found to be divergent from the video that emerged – so divergent that not only was the shooter charged with murder, as many as ten officers may lose their jobs over it.

The aforementioned shooting of Walter Scott was initially deemed justified, until a cell phone camera video emerged showing that not only did the officer fire at a fleeing Mr. Scott, but he planted evidence to back up his story that the individual reached for his Taser – something the video contradicts.

This week, the Chicago Tribune issued forth a major new investigation that found, “At least 14 times since 2010, Chicago police officers shot someone and said they thought the person had a gun, though police ultimately never found one. That, in turn, opened up the city to millions of dollars in legal claims, according to public records.

“Those shootings, in which police said the victim had a gun but one was never found, resulted in seven deaths,” they write.  “Although none of them had guns, six people who survived the shootings were nevertheless charged with aggravated assault of a police officer. Four were either found not guilty or convicted of a lesser crime. One person shot by police, a paramedic, was not charged.”

The last two years have seen police agencies across the country begin to reexamine their use of force policies.  In their guiding principles, PERF (Police Executive Research Forum), a research organization for law enforcement, argued, “The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.”

Agencies have taken the positions that “the application of deadly force is a measure to be employed in the most extreme circumstances.”  At the same time, PERF argues that agencies need to develop policies that treat the requirements under Graham as “minimum requirements.”

PERF writes, “Graham v. Connor is the common denominator across the United States, and all police agencies must have use-of-force policies that meet Graham’s standards. But many police departments have chosen to go beyond the bare requirements of Graham, by adopting more detailed policies and training on issues such as shooting at moving vehicles, rules on pursuits, guidelines on the use of Electronic Control Weapons, and other use-of-force issues, that are not mentioned in or required by Graham.

“Similarly, many police agencies have policies, practices, and training on issues such as de-escalation and crisis intervention strategies, while others do not. Graham v. Connor allows for significant variations in police agencies’ individual policies and practices.

“This guiding principle does not suggest that agencies should somehow disregard Graham v. Connor; that would be impossible. Rather, it encourages agencies to build on the legal foundation established by the Supreme Court and implement best policies, practices, and training that provide more concrete guidance to officers on how to carry out the legal standard.

“In this report, PERF recommends a number of policies that, while not currently required by the Supreme Court’s standard, should be considered nonetheless, in the view of leading PERF chiefs. Many of these polices have already been adopted in some departments, including a duty to intervene if officers witness colleagues using excessive or unnecessary force; requiring officers to render first aid to subjects who have been injured as a result of police actions; prohibiting use of deadly force against persons who pose a danger only to themselves; and specific limits on shooting at vehicles. By adopting these and other policies, departments can take steps that help prevent officers from being placed in situations where they have no choice but to make split-second decisions that may result in injuries or death to themselves or others.”

These represent tough questions and there is a clear tension between the need for police officers to be able to make split-second decisions, and the need for police officers to find ways not to shoot and kill people who are actually not armed with lethal weapons.

In our view, the outcome in Columbus should be treated as unacceptable – a 13-year-old kid was killed.  He used incredibly poor judgment both in using a BB gun to rob people and then fleeing from the police, but at the end of the day, he is a kid.  The question that I think we must ask ourselves is how his death could have been prevented.

Whether the officer acted justifiably or not, he is going to live with his decision for the rest of his life, and second-guess himself.  The family of the victim is going to live with the loss.  A 13-year-old did not get a chance to grow up or learn from his mistakes – and they were grave ones, to be sure.

—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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41 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Shoot First, Ask Questions Later”

  1. Barack Palin

    Yes, lessons need to be learned.

    Lesson #1……Never rob anyone

    #2………………Don’t use a fake gun that looks like a Ruger

    #3………………Don’t run from the police

    #4………………Don’t pull fake real looking gun while fleeing

    1. Davis Progressive

      why are you taking the initial statements at face value when you know that video has often proven the officers to be less than truthful.

      are you happy with the outcome here?

      1. South of Davis

        DP wrote:

        > why are you taking the initial statements at face value

        Do you think the black ladies that made this 911 call are liars?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B2Qa7GVNuY

        P.S. I know that DP seems to think all cops are racist but if anyone whats to see what white cops do when a white guy pulls out a real looking BB gun you can Google James Bushey BB gun video

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          SOD: You like to frame things in terms of “liars’ and “racists” rather than understanding that eyewitness accounts are inherently flawed and police and in fact all people operate under unconscious bias. So one question you might ask is whether it were a 13 year old white kid, would the cop have fired the shots under those circumstances?

        2. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > You like to frame things in terms of “liars’ and “racists” rather than

          > understanding that eyewitness accounts are inherently flawed

          Do you think the two black ladies that called 911 had a “flawed eyewitness account” (DP probably won’t answer the question)?

          > So one question you might ask is whether it were a 13 year old white

          > kid, would the cop have fired the shots under those circumstances?

          The video below shows what cops do when a white guy pulls a (real looking) BB gun:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgBeGh8ggOE

          I know that we have racists out there just like I know we have wolves out there, but just like I tell my kids not to “cry wolf” every time they hear a noise outside It would be nice if you (and DP) didn’t “cry racist” every time something bad happens to a black person…

          P.S. It is funny that the guy who writes post after post about “racist cops who are lie” after stopping black guys from fighting with their girlfriends, or mowing the lawn here in Davis or shooting them in other towns is saying I’m the one who “likes to frame things in terms of “liars’ and “racists”…

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            “Do you think the two black ladies that called 911 had a “flawed eyewitness account” (DP probably won’t answer the question)?”

            That’s not the correct question.

            Here’s a good article on the research: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/

            So the question is not whether I think they had a flawed account, the question is really, should we be able to rely on their account. This is again why we need body worn cameras. So far there has been no video in this case, which is why I think we should treat initial accounts more skeptically than you are.

            On the other, you write, “It is funny that the guy who writes post after post about “racist cops who are lie” after stopping black guys …” If you are going to put something in quotes, shouldn’t it be something that I have actually said. I have very rarely used the term racist and probably never with regards to a traffic stop.

        3. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > That’s not the correct question.

          Feel free to say you don’t want to answer the question.  Can you tell us “why” you don’t want to answer the question?

          > have very rarely used the term racist 

          Yet you just hinted that that you feel the cops would not have shot at a white kid when you ask “would the cop have fired the shots under those circumstances”.  You may not use the “term” racist but you can answer the question if you are trying to show cops are racist by running numerous stories on white cops shooting black people.  If the answer is no you can let us know why you focus on the smaller number of blacks getting shot by cops than the larger number of whites getting shot by cops.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            ” Can you tell us “why” you don’t want to answer the question?”

            I already did.

            “Yet you just hinted that that you feel the cops would not have shot at a white kid when you ask “would the cop have fired the shots under those circumstances”.”

            Which as I have explained many times is in my view due not to overt racism, but rather implicit bias There is a difference.

      2. quielo

        “My concern is police interactions.” Agreed. So how are you going to get armed robbers to wear body cameras before they jack people and are therefore likely to have police interaction?

        1. quielo

          “The portion that needs to be captured is the interaction between police and citizens.” Exactly, how are you going to get armed robbers to wear body cameras before they jack people and are therefore likely to have police interaction?

  2. South of Davis

    It is sad when anyone gets killed, but what is really sad is when most of the media focuses on guns and cops and ignores the real problems of poor black kids without two caring parents growing up in areas with housing projects, gangs and drug dealers (or poor white kids without two caring parents growing up in areas with trailer parks, meth labs and drug dealers)…

    P.S. Davis parents are not perfect, but for the most part they make sure their 13 year old kids are not out robbing people (with real looking toy guns)…

    1. tribeUSA

      SOD–thanks for your last couple of posts (and for posts on other threads with regard to this topic); saving me the trouble of posting my thoughts which pretty closely match your posts (seem like common sense to me; within a posting environment of much warping ideology and fancy rationalizations).

      As for DP’s comment; Daniel Marsh was not anywhere near being a sane human, he does not fall into the same category as most street criminals. Perhaps Marsh’s victims might have been able to hold him at bay had they had a gun stashed near their bedside (and perhaps not, I know).

      1. South of Davis

        tribeUSA wrote:

        > Daniel Marsh was not anywhere near being a sane human

        Marsh was pumped full of psychiatric drugs that broke his brain and made him a killer (like they have done before)

        https://www.cchrint.org/school-shooters/

        P.S. To paraphrase DP you know psychiatric drugs don’t kill people, except when they do…

        P.P.S. Guns don’t come with a black letter government warning telling people that they increase the chance of killing, like all psychiatric drugs do.

        P.P.P.S. Did anyone else see the ad for the BB Gun on the Big 5 insert of the Sunday Davis Enterprise that looks almost “exactly” like the gun in the photo above?

        1. Sam

          P.P.P.S. Did anyone else see the ad for the BB Gun on the Big 5 insert of the Sunday Davis Enterprise that looks almost “exactly” like the gun in the photo above?

          I did. I am running around downtown Davis right now robbing people with it. What could go wrong?

        2. South of Davis

          David wrote:
          > I don’t think this is an accurate statement

          Was Marsh NOT given (prescription) psychiatric drugs?

          Did Marsh NOT have issues with clear thinking (aka a broken brain)

          Did Marsh NOT kill two people in Davis?

          Please be more specific as to what is not “accurate”.

  3. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    As human beings, we are directly responsible for our own behaviors. The behaviors of others, we can try to change through modeling, incentives, regulations, laws and ultimately punishment or confinement for those who persist in destructive behavior. But ultimately, the only behavior over which we have 100% control is our own.

    Do we all know that the best ways to raise children are in stable family environments ( some would include not only two caring parents, but a multigenerational family as optimal) ?  Yes, I am sure that we all do since there has been no neglect of this subject in our society overall. However, can we make anyone else organize their life this way. I think the obvious answer is “no”. Do we as a society ensure that every family has enough to live on so that both parents do not have to work ?  Again, the answer is “no”. We just assume that everyone will be able to organize their lives as successfully as we have.

    But what you are omitting from your analysis is that we do not pay people to live their day to day lives. We do not directly reward staying together in stable supportive units. As a  matter of fact, we regularly penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing these stable families. We do this when we force women whose children have been fathered by men who are now in prison to go to work while not providing adequate child support. We do this when we do not demand that businesses provide sick time off and time off for the care of ill children and other relatives. We do this when we allow out of jail only those who can make bail as opposed to those who are wealthy enough to pay it themselves for equal offenses, even at the cost of a job and or home. And this is before an individual is convicted of anything at all.

    However, what we do pay people called police for is to protect us. Again, to protect. That is their job. That is why we ostensibly support them and their families. Not to shoot when there is not immediate threat or when they become afraid. We pay them to protect the community which I would be so bold as to assert includes 13 year old boys who are making very poor, but non lethal, choices.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > As a  matter of fact, we regularly penalize

      > individuals who have not succeeded in

      > establishing these stable families.

      Tia may not be aware that I (or my family) don’t “regularly penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing these stable families.” So when she says “we” I have to assume she is talking about herself and her friends and family.  I’m wondering if she can let us know how she does this (does she make single moms wait longer for appointments?)…

  4. Sam

    The police chief got up on TV with the photo of the gun as though to act as an immediate defense attorney before her department had completed its investigation.

    I like the not so subtle way David implied that the police department is already unable to conduct an honest investigation. Of course every department has to release as much information as they can about police shootings right away or the media spreads misinformation and the people riot.

    Remember “Hands up don’t shoot”? Michael Brown punches a police officer and tries to take his gun. He then runs. The police officer chases him. Brown turns around and runs toward the police officer. The police officers shoots him and kills him.

    What did the eye witness say? Brown turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down on the ground and that Brown said “I don’t have a gun stop shooting!” Both were proven to be lies, but not after days of rioting.

    1. Barack Palin

       Brown turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down on the ground and that Brown said “I don’t have a gun stop shooting!” Both were proven to be lies, but not after days of rioting.

      Speaking of jumping to conclusions, how many of our local cop hating liberals ran with that story?

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        I question a few things here. (A) Proven and (B) Lies. Eyewitness accounts are flawed – period. We don’t have a video. The investigators concluded that those accounts were inaccurate, they did not conclude that the individuals who gave them were intentionally being deceptive.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Why do you think it was a lie? I agree based on the available evidence it was inaccurate, but where’s the evidence it was intentionally inaccurate.

  5. Tia Will

    SOD

    In “our society” here in Davis can you name anyone that does this?”

    I am truly at a loss. I can not tell whether you are merely jerking my chain or completely unable to understand the difference between individual and systemic actions and effects. Perhaps you do not believe that if we know that something unjust is happening, and we do not speak out or act against it in some way, then we are silently acquiescing to that injustice.

  6. South of Davis

    Tia wrote:

    > I am truly at a loss. I can not tell whether you are merely jerking

    > my chain or completely unable to understand the difference between

    > individual and systemic actions and effects.

    I’m just calling you out on using the terms “we” and “our society” to describe something that is out there, but is rare.  When I read the left wing press I often read about “how our society loves guns” and in the right wing press about “how society it trying to ban guns”.  At the end of the day “some people” (not “we” or “our society”) love guns, “some people” hate them and most people (of both major parties don’t really care or think about them often).

    P.S. Based on the people I know (and know of) it is rare to “regularly penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing these stable families.”   If you can name 20-30,000 people in town that do this (regularly) I’ll admit that I’m wrong…

  7. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    “regularly penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing these stable families.”   If you can name 20-30,000 people in town that do this (regularly) I’ll admit that I’m wrong…”

    I do not equate “our society” with your arbitrarily selected “20-30,000 people” in our town. We have a justice system, certainly but not only in Davis that does not treat people as equals under the law in a number of ways.

    People who have enough money to hire their own attorney can spend as much as they can afford on the best, least over worked attorneys that they can afford. If you are not so economically blessed, you have to depend upon public defenders who may be ridiculously over worked, or sloppy, or indifferent, or convinced that you are a worthless human being….. but the point is that the poor have no choice, while the rich do.

    With regard to bail, we have the same inequities. If you are rich enough to bail yourself out, you will have less over all disruption of your life. If you are too poor to bail yourself out, you and your family, if you happen to be the breadwinner may be looking at severe economic disruption including loss of job, home, car…..if you cannot pay your bills.

    If we, as individual members of our society, do not recognize that these are inequities that in fact make us unequal under the law, and do our best to speak out and try to enact less discriminatory practices, then I consider us to be complicit. When enough of us are complicit then I think that it is fair to say that “we, as a society”, are supporting an unjust system which penalizes not only the individual who has broken a law, but also all who depend upon that individual. A law abiding, but financially dependent spouse and any children will be financially penalized just as will the alleged perpetrator.For me, this constitutes “regularly penalizing those who have not succeeded in establishing these stable relationships.”

    On this, I will absolutely stand my ground. So I suppose this will be an agree to disagree for us.

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > People who have enough money to hire their own attorney

      > can spend as much as they can afford on the best

      What does money have to do with “penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing these stable families”  Donald Trump has a lot of money, but he has not had a “stable family” with a bunch of divorces and kids from different Mom’s.  Some of the most (financially) successful people I know have “unstable” families and see their kids less than a typical urban “baby daddy”.

      Are you going to still “stand your ground” that “our society” is “penalizing” the MAJORITY America that does not really have a “stable” family?  I’m sure that there is some bible thumping Christian that won’t vote for Donald Trump because he is divorced, but do you see “our society” upset about this?  Do most potential patients refuse to see you because you are divorced and have not had a “stable family”?

      P.S. Your original post did not say “poor people” (that as a former poor person I am aware have things rough) you said “stable families”.  You can “stand your ground” but I just don’t see “we” or “our society” “regularly penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing stable families”…

  8. Tia Will

    SOD

    “penalize individuals who have not succeeded in establishing these stable families””

    Oh, now wait a minute. It was you who brought up the issue of the importance of two parent families and the importance of someone at home supervising the 13 year old ( aka stable families). Everything that I wrote after that was in response to your attribution of fault to those who who have less than stable households. Now you want to claim that economics and family stability have nothing to do with each other by using Trump as your example ?  Really ?

    1. Frankly

      Not speaking for South of Davis here, but I think you conflating comments about potential causes of bad behavior with “penalizing”.

      My family was poor.  I have a lot of poor relatives.  Most of them were/are as moral and well-behaved as your typical elite, well-off, liberal Kaiser doctor.  But some of them were/are not.  And for those that were/are not moral and well-behaved, they all have the potential liberal-accepted “excuse” of crappy and broken family situations… assuming they are not a Trump supporter.

      Just heard about one my relatives who is 39 and just gave birth to a baby in a homeless shelter.  She is a mess… dropped out of high school, drugs, prostitution, stealing.   Her mother was almost, but not quite, as bad.  Are you making the case that we should never pass judgement on people that behave badly unless they are rich, white Republicans or just white males?

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