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by Peter Moskos

November 14, 2007

The untimely death of Khiel Coppin

An unarmed man was killed by police Monday in Brooklyn. Here's the New York Times account. This isn’t going to start any riots. Trust me. By all reasonable accounts, this was a “good” shooting.

It always sounds bad to describe the shooting of an unarmed man as “good,” but in police parlance, “good” and “bad” shootings aren’t a moral judgment as much as a way of saying that the shooting was justified by regulation and law.

A man comes at police saying he's armed and going to shoot while holding something under his shirt? He gets shot.

When a man says he has a gun, police have every right to believe him.

Maybe this was suicide by cops. Maybe the man just needed to take his meds. I don't blame the cops. But there is another problem. An one of my students said, "they got another one."

The greater problem is that another unarmed black man was killed by police. It’s not just this one case. It does keep happening. That’s why people get upset. Maybe this one was justified, maybe the last one, too. And the one before that. But can they really *all* be justified? That’s the greater question.

Police occasionally kill innocent unarmed white people as well. But you probably never hear about it. It never becomes national news. There’s no Al Sharpton for white folk. Maybe there should be.

It usually goes without saying, but cops don’t put on their uniform hoping they’ll shoot somebody that day. No cop wants to be involved in a shooting. Sometimes it just happens (luckily it never happened to me).

The problem with individual police-involved shootings is that any criminal trial becomes symbolic of greater issues of history, race, and justice in America. That’s not fair to those on trial. But we, as a society, don’t have any better of discussing and dealing with these issues. That’s the greater problem.

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