We hear it all the time, when a police shooting occurs or there’s another incident that cannot easily be explained away, we hear from defenders of the police—it is just a few bad apples. The problem with that view will become evident in a moment, although from my perspective, having watched police officers testify in court over the past decade has taught me the problem goes far deeper than excessive force or even officer-involved shootings.
The American Conservative came out with an article weekend, “More Than a Few Bad Apples: Why Conservatives Should Back Police Reform.” Here they argue: “The problem is more systemic than a single statistic. We need to restore trust between law enforcement and local communities.”
The article notes that Heather MacDonald is “perhaps the most prominent advocate of the ‘bad apples’ theory.”
She pushes “for punishing officers who use excessive force but says that there is ‘no evidence of widespread racial bias’ among police departments.”
The article debunks the notion and shows that the problem is much more pervasive: “The story of black Americans and police brutality is far more complex than a single statistic. There is a decades—perhaps centuries—long narrative of blacks encountering unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement, treatment that has contributed to a cycle of trauma, arrest, and incarceration.”
For me however, a single shooting of a Black or Brown person underscores a systemic problem. The problem is one of lack of accountability and worse. Far from there being merely one bad actor, there is a whole host of people who enable that bad actor. The bad actor cannot operate without a lot of help from his friends
Look no further than what we have seen in Vallejo in the shooting of Sean Monterrosa, which actually should be elevated from a regional issue to a national one.
The first problem is the shooting itself is questionable. What we have not seen is the actual shooting but, as John Burris told the Vanguard on Saturday, there are two versions of what happened.
The first version as first told by the police chief was Monterrosa was on his knees, hands up, surrendering when he was shot.
The second version comes from the POA: “Mr. Monterrosa abruptly pivoted back around toward the officers, crouched into a tactical shooting position, and grabbed an object in his waistband that appeared to be the butt of a handgun. At no time did Mr. Monterrosa make any movements consistent with surrendering. Fearing that Mr. Monterrosa was about to open fire on the officers in the vehicle, the officer was forced to fire multiple rounds through his windshield.”
The problem with the POA’s version is why is someone who has only a hammer going to crouch into a tactical shooting position and grab the object that is not a gun? That makes no sense.
Burris discounts their version of events.
“It doesn’t make any sense in light of the fact that the cops were in front of him,” he said. Moreover, “He didn’t have anything.” So why would he grab an object in his waistband that was not a firearm and simulate as though he were about to open fire? Burris queried.
The first account, therefore, absent the video which has seemed to have disappeared—a recurring problem here—seems more believable.
What we do see is the aftermath of the shooting. The reaction of Officer Tonn, who has been identified by the media but not the PD as the shooter, would suggest he knew he screwed up.
Officer Tonn sees the hammer sticking out of the sweatshirt and, realizing the object was not a firearm but a hammer, he yells “stupid” along with a string of obscenities. Later, he says that “this is not what I needed tonight,” while a police captain consoles him, telling him that “you’ve been through this before,” in an apparent reference to his previous shootings.
Does this lead to a cover-up?
We know that Officer Tonn had been involved in three prior shootings. The POA has now sued to keep disclosure of the identity of the shooter from the public. The windshield he shot through has been destroyed and replaced on the police cruiser. The POA head is implicated along with a second unknown officer.
The next problem—where are the videos? We still have not seen the video of the shooting itself. What led up to it.
Burris said he still wonders if there wasn’t video that has been lost or destroyed, based on the initial account by the police chief which indicated that he appeared to be running and went to his knees in a surrendering position, putting up his hands when he got shot—“where did he get that?
“My view is the chief was told the first position or he saw the first position,” he said. “I don’t want to believe that the chief deliberately destroyed evidence.”
This case completely smells and Vallejo has a history of such problems, which is why the California AG has opened a pattern and practice investigation.
So we start with one questionable decision by Officer Tonn. Officer Tonn has a history of firing shots—four shootings in a five-year period should be cause for alarm.
The police chief has either seen or heard a version of events that does not comport with the explanation of the POA, but he is now silent.
The POA is actively involved in covering this up, as are the several officers on the scene.
So you could argue that the problem is Officer Tonn, but how deep does this problem really go? We could probably count no less than eight police officers who are now part of this. And this is only one shooting—Vallejo has a history of bad shootings, and the one before this was Willy McCoy who was shot in his car while sleeping.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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