Commentary: Officer is Fired in Vallejo, but the Firing Illustrates the Problem – Black Lives Don’t Matter to Police Officers

Kori McCoy, brother of Willie, speaks to the press with David Harrison, cousin (left) and John Burris to the right in June 2019

By David M. Greenwald

You could say it is another illustration of how Black lives do not matter when it comes to police.  The Vallejo Police Department announced on Thursday that it terminated Office Ryan McMahon, the officer who shot and killed Ronell Foster in 2018 and who was one of six officers involved in the shooting death of Willie McCoy in 2019.

But the press release makes no mention of the death of Foster, who was shot and killed after an attempted stop for riding his bike without a light in 2019.

“To me, it’s a sham,” said Attorney John Burris talking with media.  He said, “It’s not real justice in terms of the conduct he engaged in.”

In a press release, McMahon was fired following a determination by the Internal Affairs Investigation that he had engaged in “unsafe conduct and neglect for basic firearm safety.”

Basically, he put his colleagues at risk during the shooting of Willie McCoy in February 2019.

McCoy was found sleeping in his car and six officers fired 55 times.

“Any conduct outside the level of professionalism this City deserves will not be tolerated by the Vallejo Police Department,” Chief Shawny Williams said in a press release. “I understand we have a long way to go in rebuilding trust among the residents of Vallejo and I will continue to take the necessary steps to better serve this community.”

But this is the problem.  It is a reminder again that Black lives don’t matter.

Earlier this week, on our podcast, State Senator Steven Bradford, who sponsored California legislation that would decertify police officers engaging in this kind of excessive force and officer-involved shootings, talked with the Everyday Injustice Podcast about the officer’s conduct in the Breonna Taylor killing.

In that case, an officer was indicted for wanton endangerment—not because they fired more than 30 rounds and killed Taylor, but because some of the bullets went into the apartment next door where a white family lives.

“The wanton endangerment should be imposed simply because you fired into a white apartment,” he said, “despite the fact that you fired 32 bullets into the apartment of a sleeping woman of a forged warrant that was gotten on false pretenses.

“You see no value in her life,” he said.  He said that is the issue “as it relates to the reverence of life when it comes to black or brown people.”

This is the same message in Vallejo.  It is not the 56 rounds that were fired at McCoy as he slept in his vehicle, it was the possibility that McMahon might have put his police colleagues at risk.

While the city announced it was “unable to comment on any additional allegations because of McMahon’s privacy rights under California state law pursuant to the Police Officer Bill of Rights,” we actually know quite a bit about the chief’s thinking because he attempted to terminate McMahon in March—and that document was released.

The chief wrote, “On February 9, 2019, you responded to the Taco Bell on Admiral Callaghan Lane with other Vallejo Police Officers.  You and other officers became involved in an officer-involved shooting there.”

Williams writes, “During this incident, you engaged in unsafe conduct with your handgun with neglect for basic firearm safety and Vallejo Police firearms training.”

Here Williams claims that the tactic of “running and shooting” from a “rearward position” into the forward line where officers were already engaged with the suspect, “without communicating with Officer Glick was dangerous.”

Based on this, the Internal Affairs Sergeant “recommended a finding of sustained” as to the above policy violations.

“I concur with those findings,” he wrote.

The letter data March 27, 2020 states, “If my recommendation remains unchanged following completion of any pre-disciplinary review in this matter, then your termination will be effective immediately…”

Kori McCoy, Willie’s older brother, pointed out in an interview with the media, “He didn’t get fired for murdering Ronell or Willie.  He was fired for a procedural issue as far as how he handled himself running from behind two officers to get one shot off on my brother.”

Once again, an officer is being held more accountable for placing his colleagues at risk than for actually killing a member of the public who did not appear to present any kind of real risk at the time of the shooting.  In the case of McMahon, there were two men killed by his actions.

If you want to understand why people of color do not believe that Black and Brown lives matter, look closely at both the Taylor and McCoy cases.  Black people were killed.  The officers were held accountable not for their deaths, but for putting white people’s lives at risk.

Those who want to fire back and state that “all lives matter” or that “all lives SHOULD matter” are missing the point that the people whose lives do not appear to matter in these cases are Black people.

“I think it is sickening and unforgivable that McMahon was terminated for technical issues, as opposed to being terminated for executing Mr. Foster and going on to participate in the execution of Willie McCoy,” Melissa Nold, an attorney representing McCoy’s family in a lawsuit against the city and its police department told media this week.

She added, “Unfortunately, this is just further evidence of the City’s ongoing failure to supervise and properly discipline its dangerous employees.”

—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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  1. Bill Marshall

    who sponsored California legislation that would decertify police officers engaging in this kind of excessive force and officer involved shootings

    The term “decertify” is puzzling to me… are police officers ‘certified’?  Are they ‘licensed’, as the term is generally used?

  2. Bill Marshall

    Ahhh… you are talking about a change in CA state law…

    Follow-up questions:

    What is the difference between ‘certification’ and ‘licensure’?  In my professional experience, licensure is one thing, certification (degree, experience, passing exams) is another.  My licenses can be suspended/revoked, but you can’t erase my degree or experience… would you have it otherwise, where the records of my education, experience, testing results, be expunged?

    In CA, are officers ‘certified and licensed’?  If so, yes, their licenses can be revoked.  No problem with that.

    In CA, if officers are not ‘certified and licensed’ (and I support the concept, as it conforms with my reality), what do current officers, in CA have to do retain their status, or do all become ‘civilians’?

    Given the similarities between law enforcement and the military, perhaps a method could be ‘honorable discharge’, or ‘dishonorable discharge’, or simple ‘separation’.

    A DD can follow you wherever you go… or, you lie about it, and then you are guilty of a false application… subject to discharge…

    Different states have different ‘rules’… so, if you f-up in CA, you might still be perfectly able to get a PD job in another state… not good… perhaps we need a ‘offender registry’ that is nation-wide… yet, that would entail ‘profiling’, rejection of the concept of rehabilitation, so, a two edged sword… ex.:   recent legislation in CA that would allow paroled convicts who have served their probation, to be able to apply for FF positions, if the meet all other qualifications… many inmates have fought, along with other FF’s, in the wildfires… this is not simple…

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