Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Summary Executions

Recently a homeless, mentally ill man was killed by Albuquerque police in the Sandia Mountain foothills where he had been camping without a permit.

It's certainly not the only such recent incident in New Mexico or the United States. A man was summarily executed down the road a piece from my home in New Mexico. NM State police got tired of waiting for him to surrender, so they shot him as he crossed in front of a window in his own house. It was an act that shocked our local sheriff. He'd had a number of previous encounters with this man, and as far as the sheriff was concerned, the situation was contained and under control. The sheriff was overruled and the man was executed.

I think it's important to use the right terminology in these increasingly frequent cases.

Many people claim that James Boyd was "murdered." That doesn't quite cover what happened, though. The cops might claim that he "committed suicide" -- because he didn't promptly follow commands and thus "had to be killed."

But what really happened was a summary execution. Boyd was given the opportunity to surrender, and when he didn't do so immediately, he was warned that he could be killed. When he finally agreed to surrender and was starting to comply, he was subjected to a stun grenade, a taser, and a dog was let loose on him; when he tried to protect himself and then tried to get away, he was shot to death -- in other words,  he was executed for "failure to comply."

Albuquerque's new police chief (a former State Police executive 13 pg pdf resume) held a news conference at which he claimed the shooting was "justified."

People in Albuquerque and around the world are saying, "No!"

It was wrong on so many levels, the chief's disclaimer not withstanding.

The man was killed because he could be, by a rogue cop who's been admonished in the past. It was an execution -- as opposed to straight out murder -- because it was done under the color of authority as a consequence of "crime" -- being homeless, mentally ill, camping without a permit and failure to comply.

Albuquerque's police have been under intense scrutiny for their tendency to shoot and shoot again, and one of the consequences has been the replacement of one, then another chief, and the appointment of Gorden Eden to head the department. This incident indicates he's no better than the past chiefs. He may well be worse. Even the mayor and members of the city council have been so shocked by this incident that they have spoken out about it.

There have been so many similar executions, though, all over the country. Saying this one was wrong is a good thing in and of itself, but the question is how can these incidents be prevented in the first place?

As long as police can kill with impunity, executing suspects pretty much at will, the American people will not be safe from harm, for any one of them can run afoul of a rogue officer and find themselves on the wrong side of a gun.

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