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by Peter Moskos

August 9, 2016

"Unarmed" man shoots and kills store worker

Did you see the headline in today's New York Counterfactual?: "NYPD Kills Unarmed Man in Bronx":
Protests erupted after police killed a hispanic man in a Bronx bodega. Efraim Guzman, 30, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by police. One round entering Guzman's back.

Police allege Guzman was engaged in a dispute at a store at 230 East 198th Street around 1 a.m. and was shot when he attempted to reach for an officer's gun. Witnesses say the man was surrendering and surrounded by three officers when he was shot and killed in a Bronx bodega.

Liam Murphy, the family's lawyer, said, "A simple store dispute is no reason to kill a man. This is the kind of broken windows policing that is so lethal to young men of color." Murphy also criticized police for confiscated the in-store video of the shooting and called the release of Guzman's criminal record "a disgraceful attempt by police to justify this unlawful execution."

A store worker, 49-year-old Wally Camara, said that Guzman was being disruptive, but added, "police didn't need to shoot him. I wish they could have resolved this some other way."

Pedro Moscoso, a friend of Guzman, said, "Effi was a good man, like a brother to me. He was turning his life around. He was there for you. I'll miss his cooking. When he made mofongo, he would make extra, enough for anybody to just drop by."

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said her office was investigating the shooting, and criminal charges against police could be pending. The officer who shot Guzman, a three-year veteran who has not been identifed, has been placed on administrative desk duty.

Last year police nationwide shot and killed 18 unarmed hispanic men, according to data compiled by the Washington Post. Unarmed hispanic man are twice as likely to be killed by police as unarmed white men.
Of course this isn't what happened. Guzman did take a cop's gun. And despite then being shot and wounded by police, he managed to squeeze off 15 rounds. One of those killed Wally Camara, a longtime worker at the store and immigrant from Africa.
"One of the officers looked like he was trying to protect the civilian," Nikunen told reporters. "He was shielding and trying to push him away as Mr. Guzman was firing shots in the store."

Investigators believe the victim was caught in the crossfire and not the intended target.
Had police shot Guzman before he killed Camara, Guzman would have been another "unarmed" man of color killed by police; people would be angry. Instead Camara is another black men killed in the Bronx; people don't care.

So what should cops have done? Consider this, kind of like the that philosophical dilemma where a streetcar is barreling towards three men and you're at switch-track and can flip the switch so only one man dies.

You're a cop. There's a chaotic scene. Your partner is wrestling with a man. The man is reaching for your partner's gun. At least that is what you think. Do you shoot him?

If you do shoot, you will have killed an unarmed man of color and have to face the consequences: there will be protests; you will be on desk duty; you might face criminal trial for murder and lose your pay and your family's health insurance. But thanks to your action, an innocent black man would still be alive.

If you don't shoot, a man will take your partner's gun and kill an innocent black man. But you'll be OK, more or less: there will be no protests; you'll face to independent investigation; your life and job won't be terribly disrupted.

What would you do? Given this choice, what cop in his right mind would shoot the unarmed criminal and save a life? You'd have to be a martyr to make the morally correct choice.

But in hindsight, knowing what we now know, of course the cops should have shot and killed Guzman before he got control of the cop's gun. Had police had been quicker to shoot and kill Guzman, Camara would still be alive. Though we wouldn't know that. But had this happened, would you be willing to defend the officer's decision to shoot as correct? Or "justified." Or at the very least "reasonable?" Unless you're a cop, my guess is probably not.

Guzman was a threat before he got shot, when he was still unarmed. Any time a man is trying to take a cop's gun, cops are in a no-win pickle, since they're fighting with an "unarmed man." But being willing to kill a killer before he kills is not a flaw of policing; it's a feature. By the time it was 100 percent clear Guzman was a lethal threat, it was too late. He got off fifteen rounds. Anybody on the block could have been shot and killed, but the fates picked Camara.

The problem, the logical fallacy even, is you never know for sure what will happen. Cops sure don't. And they have to make split-second decisions. But when a man is fighting for control of your gun, he needs to be shot. Sooner rather than later. But that is not the lesson of Ferguson. Cops are fully aware of the potential consequences of even good shootings. Some people call this "progress." I doubt it's any consolation to Camara's family and friends.


David Woycechowsky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Moskos said...

That's nice. And, as all too usual, just slightly off topic and besides the point.

Moskos said...

Do you enjoy commenting on my blog? Who are you doing it for? Not for me. I'm sure you've a very good person. It's nothing personal, but I don't look forward to reading your comments.

Anonymous said...

Imagine if, rather than shooting the suspect (which had its own risks at that range) one of the officers had put him in a sleeper hold? Anyone who trains in martial arts has probably done it and had it done to them enough to know how effective it can be in such a situation. Quick, easy, and relatively safe when done correctly with no lasting damage (like damage that can be done with sticks). Nope, not in the NYPD. Can't do it.

How about a TASER? Again, nope, can't have and use those... too much liability!

So cops are faced with only one option that is likely to work and it's one they can't use for fear of prosecution.

David Woycechowsky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

I've been there.
And as much as I wish I could say I perfectly executed the "hand trap - eye gouge - sankyo" I had learned and practiced at the academy what ensued was more like an epileptic (me) slamming, spinning, and slapping a life-size sock monkey; taking out a side mirror and an antenna in the process.
But in the end, I walked away and the suspect got dragged in to the back of my car.
I have no compassion for someone who grabs an officers weapon. They deserve the beatdown of their life. But an officer needs to maintain control of his or her weapon, not hope/wait that another cop n scene will "handle" the situation.

Unknown said...

Still perfectly acceptable to punch them in the face... Or baton them... Or be in some other way physically creative.

Moskos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john mosby said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Woycechowsky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Moskos said...

David, you don't (or shouldn't) have any mission on my blog. I'm politely asking you not to comment any more. It's a free country, I know. But I'm free to delete them, too. Don't waste both our time.

(John, continue as normal.)

David Woycechowsky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.