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

by Peter Moskos

February 10, 2016

"Justice 4 Whom"?!

Generally I couldn't care less what Beyonce's dancers think. But "Justice 4 Mario Woods" and a black power salute? Are you effing kidding me? Mario Woods was shot and killed by San Francisco police back in December. It was a good shooting.

Christ almighty there are plenty of bad police shootings. Not this one. Woods doesn't need justice. "Justice 4 Mario Woods" means there was an injustice done by police. But right there and then, Mario Woods was armed and dangerous and needed to be stopped.

Crazy Mario Woods had already stabbed a stranger. And now he's just walking down the street holding the bloody knife. Police tell him to drop the knife. He won't. Police knew Woods had knife, had just used it, and may have wanted to use it again. Police use less lethal force... one, two, three, four, and five times. Woods won't drop the knife even after being beanbagged and tased. It's like he's on a mission. (Based on what Woods said, I suspect this was suicide by cop.) If he gets closer to others and starts cutting, police might not be able to shoot. It's a crowded street. Woods needed to be stopped.

The Guardian, which since Coldbath Fields Riot of 1833 has published exactly one unbiased story about police, says, "Mario Woods was allegedly armed with a kitchen knife." No. He had just tried to kill somebody. He was armed with a kitchen knife.

One thing that bothers me about press accounts of this incident are journalists who still talk about the knife being "alleged" or the victim being "allegedly" stabbed. For legal reasons, I understand why you might throw in "alleged" when describing the suspect. But when the suspect is dead, you can drop the "alleged" crap. Dead men can't sue any more than than they can be convicted of crime.

The very first reporter who called me, the one who brought this shooting to my attention, mentioned almost in passing that Woods "allegedly stabbed somebody."

"What?" I said, "Well, that would really matters to police. He had just cut somebody? That would change everything."

"Allegedly," she insisted.

"Well, did he just cut somebody or not?!" To police, this detail would matter tremendously.

To the best of my memory, I swear the reporter said: "Yes, but he hadn't been convicted yet."

I felt like I was entering the Bizarro world of liberal media make-believe I've heard conservatives foam about. Did she really expect police to wait until conviction before deciding the victim was real and knife sharp? Go tell the stabbed dude he was only "allegedly" stabbed. Here's what the actual victim did say:
"I'm trying to get my life together. My life has been a shambles since this happened."... "I got stabbed by someone I don't even know and I don't have a beef with or anything like that."... Jacob says he is the forgotten victim, the one who was attacked and the victim protesters and city officials have ignored.
Woods, who according to his mom and lawyer was a gentle man (of course) who was turning his life around ("He was really kind and easy to deal with and really appreciative. Terrific. Never aggressive") had an extensive violent criminal history. He had spent nearly all his adult life in prison. Now Woods's record doesn't mean cops get to kill him for no reason, but it might shed some light on why Woods would do some crazy shit.


Thorn said...

Maybe the only option for police in some places is to go beyond the restrictions in TN v. Garner and to retreat in the face of an armed suspect rather than 'provoke' a deadly force encounter. People will die but it won't be a 'police shooting.'

john mosby said...

Thorn, it's sad but that may be what it comes to. Cops may wind up not acting to protect the public. There is always some way to justify not using force: "I was unsure of my ability to make the shot given the distance and the subject's movement;" "Innocent people were behind the subject, creating a risk to them if I missed or if the round overpenetrated the subject;" "the threat to the public was not imminent at the time that I has a makeable shot," etc.

Cops will still act to protect themselves (maybe; see the Prof's later posts on cops who may have hesitated and died), and hopefully to protect other cops.

But the general public may be out of luck.

On the bright side, dashcams and bodycams will document the subject's crime for later prosecution.


aNanyMouse said...

Peter, the next time a reporter says “but he hadn't been convicted yet”, you might say, “OK, so the cop should’ve let the subject walk, thus taking the chance that the subject would stab others? If not that, then what? Please be SPECIFIC!”

Andy D said...

John, bravo. "There is always some way to justify not using force..."

you forgot the easiest way to avoid using force: just don't get there in time. In my experience, people in my line of work feel duty bound to protect the public, which is why we still show up, and use force when we have to. But everyone's sense of duty only goes so far, and if pushed far enough, weighing our own lives, our homes, our families and our careers against our sense of duty will mean that the former win out. We may suffer emotionally afterwards to the point of being broken (which, though many don't believe it, happens to some people when they DO use force to protect people) but duty may still lose the argument in the heat of the moment.

"Sorry about your grandmother being shot, but we didn't want to act prematurely and injure or kill a person who wasn't a genuine threat."

Andrew Laurence said...

I mildly disagree. I think it's always appropriate to use the word "alleged(ly)" in journalism when describing someone who hasn't had his/her day in court, and that includes those who are dead. You can also say, "According to [source(s)], [person A] had just stabbed [person B] and was walking around with the bloody knife in his hand." Saying that he intended to stab someone else is a bit of a stretch, but it's not unreasonable for a cop to assume so in this circumstance and to act accordingly.

Also, I'm not a laywer, but might it be possible in some places for a survivor to successfully sue for defamation of the dead person's character if a journalist fails to qualify his/her report with "alleged(ly)"?

Adam said...

I don't think so, Andrew. Here's a nice overview of the law.

Peter Moskos said...

Yeah, thanks. It's pretty well settled. You can speak bad of the dead. Also, should that person Rise Again, you can always use truth as a defense against libel.

As to the journalism, as a reporter I would *not* say Woods intended to cut somebody else. But as a cop, I could certainly (and legally reasonably) make that assumption given the circumstances. One innocent victim and a crazed man who won't stop or drop the bloody knife? As a journalist, I should certainly think it relevant to the story on the shooting.

As a journalist, I certain could say Woods stabbed "Jacob" (the anonymous victim). "Allegedly" if Woods were alive, but Woods is dead. And he did it. And without a shadow of doubt you can and should say "the victim was stabbed"!

Makes me think of when deBlasio said NYPD officers were "allegedly attacked" on the Brooklyn Bridge. As if that was the cops' version and therefore shouldn't be taken at face value. I don't know if he meant to say, "attacked, allegedly by these offenders." But he called the attack "alleged." Well, that's when a lot of cops turned again Da Mayor (to use a Chicago term).