Sunday, October 26, 2014

So. Why The Difference?

A black man, unarmed, reportedly surrendering, is shot down and killed by police in the streets of Ferguson, MO; a black man, standing still, holding an air rifle from the store shelves and talking on the phone to the mother of his children is shot down and killed by police in the Walmart in Beavercreek, OH; a black man in custody and handcuffed, lying prone on the ground is shot and killed by police in Los Angeles, CA; a white man, surrendering to police after an hours-long stand off, "armed" with two pocket knives, is shot by police and mortally wounded in Albuquerque, NM; and on and on like this all around the country, day in and day out, to the number of a thousand or more year in and year out.

In Sacramento on Friday, a sheriff's deputy was shot and killed by a suspect who was in the driver's seat of a car which was (apparently) under suspicion by deputies. The deputy's partner fired back at the suspect and may have wounded him, but the suspect and his accomplice successfully fled, attempted one unsuccessful carjacking in which the driver of the other car was shot in the head and wounded, attempted another successful carjacking, then took the pickup truck of a gardener which they drove to Auburn, CA, where another deputy was shot and killed and a third was wounded.

Both suspects were eventually arrested and are now in custody. Apart from the initial returned fire in Sacramento, no other shots were reportedly fired by law enforcement during the massive hours-long manhunt and eventual capture of the suspect and his accomplice -- who turned out to be his wife.

Why the difference?

Since I learned about this incident in California yesterday, I've repeatedly asked myself that question, "why?" So many suspects are simply shot and killed by police execution-style, yet in this case, it didn't happen when it well might have, especially while the police in Auburn were in the process of capturing the suspect in a home they had entered.

A key may be in the statement of Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner, 
“The suspect is in custody, as you know,” Bonner said quietly. “I think there’s those people who would say, ‘Well, you know what, I wish you’d killed him.’
“No, that’s not who we are, we are not him. We did our job..."
That's stunning really, given the widespread street justice dispensed by law enforcement all over the country, leaving so many dead, many of them innocent of wrong-doing, most of them no threat to police or others.

Yet here is a case in which two deputies were killed, another and a civilian wounded, and suspects are taken into custody without killing them. How... odd.

I've thought about why, and I've wondered, "Did they think the suspects were white?" Yes, so often, race enters into the equation, with black and brown men subjected to "street justice" by police far more often than white men are (though it's wrong to assume white men are immune. They are not.) "Were the suspects white?" The man involved has been identified as a Mexican national, but no pictures have been released (apart from a distant one as he is being transported to the hospital for assessment and treatment of his wound(s). It's impossible to say from that picture whether the suspect appears to be white. But being a Mexican national does not automatically mean he is brown. It's not clear what race his wife is, but it's likely she is white (the Salt Lake City origin of the couple indicates as much, but again, there is no certainty as yet.)

Would perceived whiteness have been a reason not to kill them? Perhaps, though I doubt it.

The man was reportedly armed with an AR-15 which he was not particularly hesitant to use, and the woman was reported to have a pistol in her purse. Whether she ever brandished or used it, I don't know, but she is charged with carjacking and attempted murder, so possibly she did use her gun, if only to show it.

Were police hesitant to use lethal force against them because they knew that at least one of them was armed with an automatic rifle and would use it? I doubt it, but it's possible. The fact that a suspect can and will shoot offensively and shoot back, as had already been demonstrated by this suspect, is sometimes enough to cause a bit of hesitation and trepidation by law enforcement. But just as often or more often, they will kill armed suspects, or suspects they think are armed, using concealed snipers if necessary, without a sign of hesitation or trepidation. This seems to have been an instance in which officers in Auburn knew where the suspect was hiding and tightened the cordon around that house while a team prepared to enter it, which apparently they did and and when they did the suspect (apparently) promptly surrendered.

How often have police entered a house -- on a no-knock warrant, say -- and shot dogs and people without a moment's hesitation? It happens all the time. Not this time, though. Why?

"That's not who we are."

Maybe that really is the key to understanding the difference between what happened in Sacramento and Auburn on Friday and what seems to be happening every day of the week somewhere else in the country.

Maybe the officers of the Sacramento and Placer County Sheriff's Departments are not Killer Kops -- unlike so many of their colleagues around the country.

If they're not, why aren't they?

Still more to ponder.

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