Did Joseph Mann actually have a weapon when he was fatally shot in July by Sacramento police officers? That is a key question that needs to be addressed at some point by the police.
Witnesses told reporters that they saw a small folding knife in the hands of Mr. Mann prior to the cops arriving. Was it open? Was he threatening them?
Spokespeople for attorney John Burris, who is handling the case, say that no knife has been produced – open or closed.
It is not clear from the videos released by the police that he had one. But the video shows that when he was running from the police, he did not lunge at them with a knife.
Regardless, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton points out in his column this weekend, “Yet instead of de-escalating the situation or using nonlethal means to subdue the individual, police employed deadly force.”
But Mr. Breton goes further – much further – in his assessment of the case, noting the similarities between the case of Joseph Mann killed on July 11 by Sacramento police and the death of Deborah Danner, killed last Tuesday in her Bronx apartment by New York police.
Mr. Breton writes, “Sacramento police say Mann had a knife when two officers shot him 14 times in North Sacramento. NYPD said Danner tried to strike an officer with a baseball bat before she was killed.”
The biggest difference was the response of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio versus the response of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“Our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio less than 24 hours after Danner was killed. “It’s very hard to see that standard was met.
“Deborah Danner should be alive right now, period,” Mayor de Blasio continued. “If the protocols had been followed, she would be alive. … Something went horribly wrong here.”
In this case, even NY Police Commissioner James O’Neill was force to agree. He said, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to go. It’s not how we train; our first obligation is to preserve life, not to take a life when it can be avoided.”
Marcos Breton points out this is not how Sacramento officials have reacted. Mayor Johnson and others “have called for more transparency and accountability from the police.”
He points out that, while public officials have called for public release of the videos, others have resisted. “It was only after The Bee’s Anita Chabria got hold of surveillance from a private citizen in late September that police finally released footage.”
The video is disturbing, to say the least, with an officer heard saying, “I’m going to hit him.” His partner says, “Ok, go for it.” After that, the two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, exit their vehicle and open fire.
Mr. Breton notes, “Even though they previously had been briefed on the incident by [Police Chief] Somers, City Council members said the first time they heard the conversation between the two officers was when news outlets reported on it, a situation Councilman Allen Warren called ‘extremely alarming.’”
He continues, “But even after seeing the footage and hearing the officers’ words, few council members have said anything of consequence about the incident.”
“I have opinions about (the Mann video), but I don’t share them because we live in a society of due process,” Councilman Jeff Harris said last week. “Right now, there is a civil case in process, there is a legal case in process, and until those processes are completed, you really won’t know if our process works or not.”
Mr. Breton notes, “Councilman Larry Carr has said that council members are refraining from commenting on the Mann video in the same way President Barack Obama refrains from making specific comments about police shootings.”
But that is not how New York is responding. Mr. Breton charges, “The response from New York officials not only has been far more decisive than Sacramento’s – coming within hours compared to months – it also reflects political courage that’s lacking here.”
Then again, the shooting in New York is just the latest in a string of shootings and killings that have hit NYPD since the infamous death of James Garner in July 2014. Perhaps New York has simply grown tired of covering for mistakes for its officers.
But then again, Mayor de Blasio has long battled with the police unions angry with the mayor for supporting anti-police protests, following the decision by a grand jury not to indict the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner.
On the night that decision was announced, Mayor de Blasio invoked the mantra of the protest movement, “black lives matter,” and said he warned his biracial son about interacting with police.
While Mr. Breton notes structural differences between New York and Sacramento, the problems in New York go far deeper than just the recent string of incidents. Moreover, as Mr. Breton correctly notes, “The sense of paralysis in Sacramento’s response to the Mann killing has been compounded by the political reality that Johnson, Shirey and Somers soon will leave their jobs.”
On Tuesday, incoming Mayor Darrell Steinberg, addressing the Mario Obledo dinner at the West Sacramento City Hall, noted that problems within the police will be a high priority for his new administration.
Still, Mr. Breton points out, “De Blasio obviously understands that he represents all New Yorkers and not just powerful constituencies such as police unions. The fact that New York’s top cop was openly critical of his department reflects an understanding that’s absent in Sacramento.
“The details surrounding the New York shooting will be investigated to determine if the officer operated within the scope of the law. But what O’Neill and De Blasio have done is to speak frankly and directly about policy, tactics and about what they expect of their officers,” he writes.
“They have spoken about how NYPD must always attempt to preserve life at all costs. And they have said what happened in the Danner shooting did not reflect the city they want New York to be. That is effective civilian leadership. That sets a tone for public discourse and demonstrates clearly who is in charge in the city,” he continues.
“Who is in charge in Sacramento right now? Who knows?” Mr. Breton asks. “Anyone who has viewed the Mann video can tell what happened was not right and not reflective of what Sacramento would want from its police officers. It’s just that no one in charge has had the courage to truly say it out loud.”
Unfortunately, that problem does not end in Sacramento – it is endemic to the rest of the region.
—David M. Greenwald reporting