About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

January 9, 2009

BART Shooting

The big police news of the week is probably the police-involved shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant (a black man) at a Bart Station in Oakland. Riots have followed. I hate riots and those who justify them. Like there's any justification to bust up a hair salon called "African Braids".

And here's to Oscar Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson. She is quoted as saying: “I am begging the citizens not to use violent tactics, not to be angry.... You’re hurting people that have nothing to do with the situation. Please stop it, just please stop.” That's a very noble thing to say after your son is killed.

At the time of the shooting, I was just across the bay in San Francisco. I actually heard a few gun shots in Noe Valley. But not these shots.

There are tons of You Tube clips about this shooting. Just search for "Bart Shooting." This is probably the best report:

From what I've heard, this guy was unarmed. But it could very well be justified to shoot an unarmed man. I've also heard he was handcuffed. He wasn't (best I can tell).

Like it or not, police will assume you might be armed until you prove otherwise. Especially on New Year’s Eve when you hear the constant crackle of gun fire.

If you're pointing a gun at somebody and telling him to freeze and he's fighting and then his hands are under him and then he doesn't freeze and out from under his body come his hands holding something you think is a gun.... As the cop with the gun you either do nothing and get shot or shoot.

If police think you might be armed and you won't follow orders... well, it's on you. Sorry. It may not be right, but that’s just the way it is.

For the record, once I was brawling with and unable to control an unarmed handcuffed man (lesson: never arrest anybody when you're alone). Still I didn't shoot him.

I've heard that perhaps the cop thought he was Tasing the guy. I don't know. I've never held a Taser, but I don't think you can mistake a Taser for a gun.

But really, this shooting looks terrible. From the officer's reaction immediately after firing, it looks like he's surprised and didn't mean to fire. That makes it both a horrible mistake and a crime.

And whether or not the cop fucked up, and odds are he did, I hope all those schmucks yelling at the police from the train take a second to think about how they too contributed to this man's death.


dave h. said...

"It looks like a both a horrible mistake and a crime."

I think that's accurate. Possibly negligent homicide or something similar. The DA should make sure not to overcharge. This was certainly not 1st degree murder, but it was not clearly not a "good shooting."

"I've heard that perhaps the cop thought he was Tasing the guy. I don't know. I've never held a taser, but I don't think you can mistake a taser for a gun."

Me neither. Also, most of the police in my area wear the taser near the front of the belt, not the side.

Over all this is just a terribly depressing situation. As a guy that may be in law enforcement some time soon, I am particularly mortified. Here's a situation where officers of good will need to step up and be honest about this situation. Radical reform of policing is necessary. The old "sticking up for your own" response won't do when you shoot a proned out suspect in the back.

Anonymous said...

THIS is why people don't trust police officers. Not only can they pull on gun on you at any time for whatever reason, and it's your responsibility not to make any move at all or they can shoot you... but when fellow officers witness one of their own abusing their power they tend to close ranks.

Most officers I've dealt with are competent and courteous. But there have been a few meathead bullies who seem to enjoy intimidating civilians. Most of these guys are probably sensible enough not to brutalize or shoot a civvie for no reason, but on a bad night with enough alcohol in them, ... I wouldn't put it past them. It's a Nixonian attitude: "If an officer does it, it's not illegal."

That kind of mentality would dry up pretty quickly if cops held their own to account. But the trend seems to be the same as with the Catholic priest pedophiles -- deny, re-assign, settle out of court, etc.

I don't blame individual cops for this nearly as much as the institutions they are trained and live under. Same as with the atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq -- a few soldiers were bad seeds but most were just given the wrong incentives.

I do wish more police officers would talk about the importance of reform, however.

dave h. said...

"That kind of mentality would dry up pretty quickly if cops held their own to account"

That's correct. Officers must realize that their unethical colleagues are not police, they are criminals using the badge to escape detection. Peer pressure and exclusion directed towards "rogue" officers (rather than officers who cooperate w/ internal investigations) will help. True civillian review (like an inspector general/auditor's office w/ subpoena power) would also be a step in the right direction.