Last night the LAPD killed a guy who was wielding a pocket knife...
The title says it, but LAPD's own Twitter shows it:
The rush of reports from the scene, all delivered via social media, were conflicting from the word jump. Some heard the police saying they were looking for a guy with a knife. Others said he was unarmed. The video that made it around the most was by a guy named Jordan White who wrote:
"LAPD just murdered an unarmed man right in front of me."
I won't embed that tweet, because it shows a picture of the dying man. White's assertion that the man was unarmed could easily stem from the fact that the blade was too small for him to see at the distance he was at. In an interview with KABC White says that he had just stepped out of the Metro station and heard the shots. That means he didn't see what the knife-wielding man was doing beforehand.
That's one of the big problems with this one: most of the eyewitness accounts I've seen so far start up after the police shot the guy. That made it far too easy for a game of telephone to start on Twitter that started with "unarmed man" and ended with "unarmed protester." There's a narrative we really don't need right now. It is one, however, that can "fit the evidence" of a context-less video.
One aquaintance of mine pinged me on Twitter and said that he saw the whole thing and that "the cop was right." I'm waiting to hear back from the witness I know, in order to get a better sense of the timeline: did the man charge police? Was he waving the knife around? Did the police have room to give him space? Did it look like he was going to charge into traffic and go after tourists on the other side Hollywood Blvd.?
Even if the answers to those questions leads to the worst possible scenario--guy charges at cops who have nowhere to back up to and then makes a move toward tourists--I still have concerns about the tactics on display.
I question the logic of discharging a service weapon at the corner of Hollywood and Highland. That's pretty much Ground Zero for Hollywood tourists, and while that ups the ante on a man with a knife--the offical report is that police were responding to a call of an assualt with a deadly weapon--firing a weapon at the corner is not without risk to the general public. We can be grateful that no bystanders got shot, that's part skill and part the abscence of bad luck. I won't speculate on the percentages there.
White also took a video of the incident shortly after the shooting. In it we can see a fair number of cops. Hell, other EMS are on the scene before his cellphone video stops rolling. The sheer number of cops reminded me of another video of police confronting a knife-weieling man in the streets:
Those are British police, and there are 30 of them--way more in number than the cops in Hollywood last night by my count in the White video--taking their time to contain and take down a guy with a machette. It might not be efficent and it might be ugly in its own way but there's a big difference: the guy in England is alive and the guy in my city is dead.
Both sets of police did what they were trained to do. While there's no question in my mind that knives are dangerous weapons, I have to think that the standing policy of shooting people with knives is causing more tragedies than it is preventing. We know there are other ways of dealing with these situations. Maybe the LAPD officers wouldn't have been able to do anything but shoot that man last night when all was said and done, but standard operating procedure doesn't seem to give officers any other options.
When you see the officers handcuff a guy whose "brains (are) on the street"-- as you can hear one person in the video put it-- you have to wonder how we are allowing our police officers to be trained. How we are equipping them to deal with public safety issues.
The problem with a militarized police force isn't just the armored personal carriers and assault rifles they are requistioning Hell, that's just a symptom. The problem is the idea that our streets are battlefields and that there is a thin line between "civilian" and "suspect" and once you cross that line your life appears to be forefit it you don't do everything a cop says the second they say it.
That's a sure sign of a society who has lost its soul to fear.
Side note before I go drown the dread in my gut in coffee: I just want to say "respect" to the cop in the video who said to the bystanders that they could film it but that they had to back up. He also called them "gentlemen." Is it dry and formal? Hell, yes. It's also how we should expect all our officers to act: firmly, but with respect.
You get what you give.