Despite what you keep reading on social media, it’s not likely that the cop who shot the woman in Minnesota would be convicted by a jury, provided it even goes to trial. Because if the cop believed the person he shot was potentially a mortal threat, he will be acquitted. He apparently shot her from the passenger seat through his partner’s door where she was talking with his partner. She died from a shot to the abdomen, though not instantly. She might have quickly bled to death, or went into cardiac arrest. There is no word on whether she was handcuffed. Nor is there any explanation as to why she was shot. We can only assume the shooting officer thought she had a gun in her hand. No gun was found, however her cell phone was found, and the officer must have assumed that her cell phone was a handgun and that this lady in her pajamas could be a cop killer. And that is the key. Even if the partner who was talking to the woman knew she had no gun, the fact that the shooting officer thought she had a gun in her hand is all that is required for acquittal. This has been famously established by several juries. You can see the impact of these latest jury decisions on police behavior. They shoot, knowing that all they have to say is that they thought their victim was armed and might be going to kill them. Providing clear cut evidence that the victim was neither armed nor intending any sort of violence will not convict the officer. All that is required for acquittal is that the officer thought his life (or his partner’s life) was in jeopardy. Prosecution will have to prove that the officer could not have believed his life was in danger. And juries have shown absolutely no tendency to believe an officer could be mistaken. The bar has been set so low for justifiable homicide by a police officer that convictions, no matter how egregious the shooting, are just about impossible. Indeed, Justine Ruszczyk (aka Justine Damond) is just the latest in a line of women who officers somehow believed were cop killers. Seattle police shot an unarmed pregnant woman named Charleena Lyles in her kitchen recently. She was African-American, and just as Justine Ruszczyk had called the police (to report what sounded like a sexual assault nearby), Charleena Lyles had called the police to report a burglary. At some point the two white responding officers suddenly decided she was a cop killer and shot her repeatedly in front of her children. The department found that they followed proper procedure. Odds are that the Minneapolis Police Department will come to the same conclusion in this latest shooting. It’s not that Justine Ruszczyk did anything wrong. It’s just that the officer did nothing wrong either. He apparently thought she had a gun, and while shooting someone to death through a car door based on a wrong assumption will get you a long stretch if you are a civilian, it is legitimate self-defense for a police officer as far as juries are concerned. He may be a Somali cop and she a pretty white lady, as both ends of the political spectrum keep pointing out, but he is still a cop and she wasn’t and the cop is always right. As jury after jury has established, a mistaken cop can shoot you down at any time, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. That is the law.
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.