A doctrine created by defense attorneys defending rogue officers and made law by jury after jury.

Seems to me that the ease and alacrity with which the two Seattle police officers gunned down the pregnant woman holding the knife on June 18th was a direct reflection of the recent jury decisions on police shootings, and that was before the acquittal in Minnesota. Police have been given virtually a free hand in shooting civilians by a whole string of juries, and I suspect we will be seeing a lot more itchy trigger figure shootings. The bar has been set so low that all an officer has to think is that someone could conceivably be a potential cop killer and even if it turns out there was no basis for such an assumption whatsoever, it does not matter. All that matters is that the cop thought so. Reality has no place in judging police shootings anymore. What matters is what a cop thinks might be reality. Let that sink in. Police have a right to kill based on their perceptions of a possible threat alone. No actual threat is necessary. There is not a police department in the country that sought or supports that assumption. This was a doctrine created by defense attorneys defending what are essentially rogue officers and turned into law by not one but nearly every jury these past couple years deciding police shooting cases. I don’t think this has sunk in yet among the American public. Perhaps when people who are not black males are gunned down for no apparent reason by a paranoid cop who a jury then inevitably acquits, maybe then it will occur to everyone just how bizarre and dangerous a thing this is. Is there a way to stop it? No, there is not. Several juries have seen to that. The precedent has been set and under our common law system, this as yet unnamed doctrine is now on the books in more than one state. Worse yet, it can also be cited in Stand Your Ground states. It has suddenly become a lot easier to kill someone and get away with it in this country.

Pregnant woman shot by police

Here we go again. Seattle this time. “Pregnant woman shot dead by officers after police say she brandished knife.” Why the hell two cops would shoot a pregnant woman with a knife to pieces mystifies me as these things always do. Police training anymore emphasizes force protection at all costs, if a cop thinks he is being threatened his first responsibility is to fire as many shots as possible at the threat. If a cop thinks another member of the force is being threatened his duty is also to shoot as many shots as possible. And you don’t even have to threaten the cop. If the cop thinks he is being threatened that is also a justifiable reason for killing someone. Juries have made that clear in decision after decision. If somehow this ever went to court (and there is a very slim chance of that) a jury will almost inevitably give the cop the benefit of the doubt. Neither officer attempted to grab the knife, or even to shoot her in the legs (nor are they supposed to shoot to wound, but always shoot to kill.) Nor did they Taser her. They went from zero to fatal in a couple seconds. Had a private security guard done the same he’d be in jail. Had a private citizen blown her away under the exact same circumstances (she picks up a knife and you shoot her a few seconds later) you might as well throw away the key. Shooting in self defense is allowed in Washington state, as it is in California, but the circumstances making it your duty to retreat and not fire are strict and this would not likely qualify as justifiable homicide for a private citizen and certainly not for two privates citizens firing multiple shots at the same time. Citizens and cops are judged by two very different legal traditions. You are assumed to have murdered unless a clear cut case of self-defense can be proven. A police officer lierally has a license to kill. Most, of course, will never kill anyone. Most never even fire their guns in anger. And there are limits to that license to kill. A police officer, like you and I, cannot murder with forethought. And a police officer cannot just kill anyone at anytime for little reason. But if an officer feels threatened or is under the notion that he is threatened, whether that notion is true or not, he can shoot to kill. Indeed, he is supposed to shoot to kill. And right now that power to shoot to kill is stronger than it has been in a long, long time, due to the stunning decisions by a series of juries.

And then there is the problem of why cops use maximum force against black people far more than against non-black people. The pregnant woman had mental health issues. And she did have a criminal history (what we do not yet know), and was just out of jail, so the cops went in thinking she could be violent, I suppose. But skin color seems to have been the deciding factor in whether one tases or unloads your service revolvers, as it always does. You are far more likely to be shot by police if a black male than if you are a black female, but black females are far more likely to be shot than any other females. African-Americans, for whatever reasons, are by far the most likely ethnic group to be shot and killed by police. Doesn’t matter if they were born here or in the Caribbean or in Africa or wherever. Doesn’t matter their income level, or education, or even if they are a police office out of uniform. If you are black you are far more likely to be shot by a police than if you are white, or Hispanic or Asian or whatever. Police culture has built in biases (probably going back deep into the 19th century, at least) and I wonder if they are even aware of them, and as long as juries keep telling itchy trigger fingered cops (of all races, incidentally, though the two in Seattle were white) that it’s OK to keep shooting people and in particular black people like this, it’ll continue.

This will certainly explode into a huge issue. Again. The public will be stunned, and a jury, in the incredibly unlikely event this was found to be unjustified by the police themselves and the district attorney, will side with the officers, as they do over ninety per cent of the time. All the police body cams and cruiser cams and people filming with their cell phones matters nought, as this is no longer about police shooting someone who is not a seriously mortal threat but whether or not a cop thinks that person was a threat when they shot him. You can have a thousand witnesses attesting to the fact that a harmless, unarmed man was shot and it will not matter because all that counts is what the officer perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be a mortal threat. Worse yet, the standard has slipped from being a threat to being a potential threat. These past several acquittals in police shooting cases have established that if an officer thinks that a person could conceivably be a threat, and can present evidence of how the shooting officer could have seen the shooting victim to be a potential threat even if the victim did not do anything threatening at all, then shooting that person before he becomes a threat is justifiable homicide. That is a helluva leap. Like shooting a dog because you thought it could be rabid. The standard of justification for a police officer to kill a person has now dropped to a very low level. No matter how wrong a cop’s judgement can be, a jury in all likelihood (probably well over 90% of the time) will conclude that the cop felt threatened and therefore was obligated to shoot to kill. The last few acquittals have solidified this idea. A cop’s right to shoot to kill under just about any circumstances been thoroughly grounded in legal precedent going back a decade, and a cop’s right to shoot and kill black people far out of line with their percentage of the population cannot be questioned. Shoot a white person it’ll be a much harder case for the police. Shoot a Hispanic is easier to justify than shooting a white but still, it’s not as safe a bet as shooting an unarmed black person. When a jury in liberal St. Paul, Minnesota established that fact, it’s pretty much law across the country. So shooting a pregnant African American woman wielding a knife and who was just in jail a few days before is a given. If you can shoot unarmed, cooperating black males and get away with it, shooting an unhinged black woman with child and a knife and a criminal record is just part of the job description. Or so a jury would tell you. Most cops wouldn’t, I am pretty sure. They certainly would have some reservations. There is a reason that so few cops ever shoot anybody. But then this isn’t up to most cops. This is up to juries, and in nearly every case they seem to have no reservations at all.

As a footnote on the hypothetical consider this: had Charleena Lyles lived, somehow, and the unborn baby died, she would probably have been charged with murdering her unborn child. At least we are spared that.

Here’s the police recording. The conversation seems calm, and you can hear a child throughout. She suddenly gets angry at the end, the cops yell get back a few times, and then there are the shots. Inexplicable how it went south so fast, or why they shot her instead of tasing. Come to your own conclusions.

Wrong place, wrong time

(2012)

Kendrec McDade memorial, 2012

Kendrec McDade memorial, 2012

Kendric McDade never even got the dignity of a public hearing.

Think about it. The Pasadena police officer who first shot him fired at point blank range from a darkened patrol car without any verbal warning whatsoever. Didn’t even yell at him to stop. He just fired. His partner then shot McDade several more times. Then they cuffed him as he died. And though McDade was innocent, wasn’t the guy the cops were looking for, and was unarmed, he was a black guy reaching for a cell phone. “He left the sidewalk and he’s running at me,” the officer told investigators. “This — this scares the crap out of me. I don’t know why he is running at me. He’s still clutching his waistband. I think he’s got a gun. I’m stuck in the car. I got nowhere to go.” Fearing for his life, Griffin said he fired four times through the open driver’s side window. McDade was two or three feet away.

McDade never knew what hit him. The DA, reading Officer Griffin’s testimony, decided it was justifiable. Instead, blame was laid on McDade for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with a cell phone, and on the guy who called in a robbery report. The guy said the perpetrator–who was not McDade–brandished a gun. No gun had been brandished. So no action was taken against the officers whatsoever. Not a goddamn thing.

This case completely weirded me out at the time. A cop killing by surprise like that, just like a mafia hit. Made me wonder what they teach Pasadena police at the Academy now. Profiling, obviously, black man, white cop. Self preservation. Not a lot of guts, though, not if they’re so scared they pop off citizens like that without any warning whatsoever. Maybe they could teach guts at the Academy. Courage. Intestinal fortitude. McDade’s death was about as cowardly a police shooting as I’ve ever heard of. I don’t think police are cowards, not at all. Just the opposite.  But I’ll make an exception in this case.

Oh well, McDade wasn’t the first innocent victim to be killed this way. Certainly not the first young black man. But I thought it was the scariest. The ugliest and most cowardly. Just how low are the standards for the Pasadena Police Department?

But then no one remembers Kendrec McDade anymore. And the Pasadena Police Department hid the names of the officers who killed him, never did tell us. (We found them out later, much later, when all was safely swept under the rug.) Then that guy who made the 911 call had to pay $3,000 to the Pasadena Police Department. Imagine that. The police were the aggrieved party, not the family of the man they ambushed and killed because one of their own was too scared to protect and serve anyone but his own skin. Talk about hiding behind a badge.

I am not a cop hater. Things like this don’t get me screaming about Amerikkka or making absurd comparisons to Nazi Germany. I don’t think all cops are killers, nor do I think all cops, or even almost any other cop, would pull a cowardly stunt like the police officer who fired from that car did. There are plenty of good police officers in Pasadena. Excellent officers. But how could you tell when the department turns egregiously bad and very fatal police work into justifiable behavior? What a great message that sends. There has to be some sort of accountability when police error kills an innocent person. But in this case there was absolutely none. It’s a travesty. You or I would never, ever get off on a homicide like that, ambushing and killing someone. We’d be charged with murder in the first degree. Maybe we’d get it reduced because the guy scared the crap out of us, too. But there is no way we wouldn’t do a stretch in prison. And there’s no way we could hide our identities, either.

You can tell the DA and judge knew this was a crock, that this Oscar Carrillo was taking the fall for the Pasadena Police Department. You can tell because all the big talk of charging the guy with manslaughter–basically saying the he pulled the trigger and killed McDade–was suddenly and mysteriously dropped. Carrillo pleaded guilty to filing a false police report. He’s said he was robbed by a man with a gun. It was from that report that the police decided they had to kill Kendric McDade. Had you or I done that the very same D.A. would threaten us with a charge of cold blooded murder. Then let us settle for settle for a more appropriate conviction of manslaughter. That’s what they did here, threatened Carrillo with a long prison stretch but accepting a conviction for letting him off for filing a false report. He got ninety days, another ninety days community service and then had to pay the Pasadena Police that $3,000. Not a hand was laid on the cops who shot him. Not even a whisper.

I bet there are people in the District Attorney’s office that still get queasy when they think about how they handled this case. And I bet they don’t talk about it, ever. I bet they never tell their children what they did.

Justifiable homicide. Self defense. Officer Griffin suspected the man on the sidewalk wanted to kill him. So he blasted him first, several times. He couldn’t miss at that range. I don’t know if McDade’s cell phone remained on his belt or went skittering across the sidewalk, harmlessly. But I am absolutely flabbergasted they knelt down, rolled him over and cuffed him. He had eight holes in him. There must have been blood everywhere. I don’t know what those officers were thinking at that moment. But if they handcuffed a dying man they weren’t thinking the right thing. They knew he was a goner, and that they might be too. So they were trying to get their story right. How to explain away killing a completely innocent citizen guy by mistake. That’s what they were thinking.

I’m sorry this piece is so goddam angry. So goddam angry that the writing’s not the best, the structure a little messed up, repetitive. I’m sorry if I’ve pissed off any other police officers who might see this, which wasn’t my intention at all, and I’m sorry if some people in Pasadena might think I should shut about all this because I don’t live there. But sometimes you can’t help being angry. And some people can’t help being dead either. The living cover their asses and all is forgotten. Wrong place, wrong time.

Here’s the story: