Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why Do Police Feel It Is Their Job To Kill -- The San Francisco Thing and The San Bernardino Thing and the Paris Thing In Perspective

When I first saw news about the San Bernardino mass killing, the word was that it was at a hospital. Then the word was it was at a clinic. Then it was at a developmental center -- which didn't make any sense, as I didn't know what that was. Much later, the word was that the shootings happened at a conference facility at the Inland Regional Center where the San Bernardino Department of Health was holding a banquet and awards presentation (or a holiday party, it's not entirely clear).

From the first, though, the reports reminded me a lot of what happened in Paris. In other words, a mass shooting where people were gathered for no political purpose at all, intended -- apparently -- to inspire as much fear and dread in as many people as possible.

The authorities have been having a hard time calling it "terrorism" -- and I don't really think that argument matters in the least. The issue is that the actions of the (apparent) shooters did cause panic, fear and dread in a whole city, leading to furious reaction by police, media falling all over itself to get the story (mostly wrong) and commands from on high to OBEY.

Obedience. That's the key element.

Oh yeah, and the alleged shooters were killed by police after a high-speed chase from their home in Redlands and through the streets of San Bernardino, until they were cornered and a shoot-out ensued. Or something. Or so they say. We really don't know what happened, although whatever it was was apparently witnessed by the scrum of helicopter cameras overhead -- though not shown, and possibly not recorded by those self-same cameras. The NBC helicopter, for example, was focused on a vehicle (apparently shot up, not sure) some distance away from the "black SUV" that the (apparent) shooters were driving and in which one died, the other shot down in the street. Much of the coverage I saw that day was deliberate misdirection, "so as not to reveal" something, whether bloody corpses or police storming around town frightening the bejebus out of everyone. But eventually there would be the denouement so everyone could get back to normal.

Ah yes, the killers were killed by police.

Most Americans would say it was justified. No other choice.

In San Francisco, a video was posted on social media of a man being shot and killed by a swarm of police who formed a firing squad on a city street and shot the man in the presence of many witnesses.

The man appears agitated but not in any way threatening to the officers, all of whom appear to have their sidearms drawn and aimed at the man. As the man attempts to sidle away from them, one officer puts himself in the man's path. The man continues to attempt to inch away from the other officers. As he does, the officer in his path appears to open fire. Other officers join in. The man falls mortally wounded on the sidewalk while witnesses shout their outrage.

Police claim the man was armed with a kitchen knife 6"-8" long (not visible in any video of the incident so far released) and had "committed a felony" by stabbing someone previously. He was confronted by police but refused commands to drop the knife, and he appeared to be able to withstand several bean-bag rounds without being subdued sufficiently for apprehension.

Police claim that the witness videos show what happened after he was struck by bean-bag rounds and managed to get up again. Police claim he still had the knife and refused commands to drop it. Police claim he was moving toward an officer when they opened fire -- "fearing for their lives and the safety of others...." Bang, bang.

The "21-foot Rule" and all of that. In other words, whether or not the man was actually threatening officers, he was a threat to them simply because he was armed and so close to them. Never mind that all of the officers on scene were aiming their guns at him, and objectively represented a mortal threat to him. Beside the point, right? The fact that he was trying to inch away, slowly, without in any way threatening the officers, but he was moving toward an officer who had put himself in the man's path, was sufficient to justify opening fire on him -- according to the police.

Oh, and he was black.


Yes, well. This is the US of America, 2015, and in the US of America in 2015, a black man with a weapon, even if only an imaginary weapon, or armed only with his blackness, is considered an existential threat to be neutralized. Terminated if need be.

This is the almost automatic response of police throughout the land when they are informed of an armed black male on the loose. "Training" kicks in, and... they kill.

In this case, the young black man, Mario Woods, was alleged to have stabbed another man who sought treatment a nearby hospital and reported the attack to the police. Police scoured the area and determined that the young man they eventually shot and killed, Mario Woods, had stabbed the man being treated at the hospital (for a non-lethal wound to his shoulder -- apparently).

Mario Woods, apparently, refused to obey police commands to "drop the weapon" and submit to arrest. So far, there are three videos showing portions of the confrontation between Mario Woods and what look to be close to a dozen SFPD officers, guns drawn. There is no "weapon" visible in Mario Woods' hand in any of the videos. In one, it appears that Mario Woods is attempting to show the officers his hands -- to demonstrate he does not have a knife. But as is the way with these videos, the images are too grainy to say for sure.

At any rate, he is not threatening the officers in any way. He appears to be confused and frustrated, agitated but not threatening.

And when he takes a step or two away, toward an officer moving into his path (an officer he might not even have seen) he is subjected to a fusillade of gunfire, more than a dozen shots fired by five officers at close range. Mario Woods did not survive. Intentionally so.

While there were protests at the time he was shot -- distinctly heard on the videos -- and there has been a growing sense of outrage in the Bayview community and San Francisco where this police action took place, media has been intent on demonstrating that Mario Woods "needed killing" because of his criminal past and because of his alleged assault on the man who was treated at the hospital, and most of all for his


Obedience being (almost) the sole criterion of whether one lives or dies in any confrontation with police. "Just comply" say the defenders of these actions, "and you won't be shot and killed." Of course that's not true, especially not true for black and brown males -- who may comply and be shot or brutalized anyway. It's simply a roll of the dice whether the police will kill a black or brown male in a confrontation, no matter what the subject is doing or not doing. Police will almost always get away with it, too, because all that matters at law is the officer's perception at the time of the killing. So long as the office can say the Magic Words, "fearing for my life and the safety of others" he or she will almost always be free of criminal liability for any execution they might commit. This is due to some very strange Supreme Court rulings protecting police action in the course of their duties (mostly having to do with the Drug War) and to cultures and policies of police departments that encourage fatal encounters.

In the case of the San Bernardino Thing (Paris, too) the suspects were... brown. In San Bernardino, it was a matter of a brown married couple of the Muslim persuasion, he an American citizen, she, apparently, a Pakistani. He was an employee of the county health department that was holding the event at the conference facility. The story is that the man had an argument with someone else there and left the facility only to return shortly thereafter with his wife, both of whom were armed with assault rifles and both of whom opened fire into the assembly, killing fourteen and wounding another 20 or so before escaping in that "black SUV."

Motive unknown, but "workplace dispute" seems to be part of it. Stories of the couple's radicalization and devotion to ISIS (whatever it may be at any given time) are circulating, There is both a Pakistani and a Saudi connection of some sort. And of course the internet as a means of communication and radicalization are part of the story too (as is the case with the Paris Thing as well).

The response of the politicians is to forbid Syrian refugee resettlement in this country or in Europe, as the Syrian refugees, who had nothing to do with San Bernardino or Paris, are potential threats to guard against.

The San Bernardino couple (Sayeed Farouk and Tashfeen Malik) had acquired quite an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, all legally, only a tiny portion of which was (apparently) used in their killing rampage and later shoot out with police. The rest was discovered at their townhouse.

The Paris attacks were committed by heavily armed individuals, all or almost all of whom died in shootouts with police.

Few would question the need for killing individuals who are actively engaged in shootouts with police. Though it is reported to have been the case in both San Bernardino and Paris, these shootouts did not necessarily take place at all. Police have been known to declare themselves involved in "shootouts" when only they are firing. This was apparently the case in Watertown during the apprehension of one of the Tsarnayev brothers. Only the police were firing at their quarry who was hiding in a boat under a tarp, but the police claimed falsely that they were engaged in a shootout. This has happened many times.

Whether the couple in San Bernardino were shooting it out with police will probably never be known for certain. Same with the many suspects in the Paris Thing (I've read that there have been thousands of police raids in France and Belgium since the incidents in Paris. Some have involved killing, but how many? Who knows, and can we believe what we're told?)

Meanwhile, France and other parts of Europe are enduring a state of emergency which prohibits public demonstrations among many other normal activities and which requires obedience to authority.

There is a consistent theme through all these instances: one obeys or one suffers the potentially lethal consequences.

Command and obey.

The lesson? Terrorize a city, and the residents of the city shall be made to obey.

Be a black or brown man suspected of having committed a crime or of being armed in any way, and be shot down by police.

And then of course there are the white male mass murderers captured alive and treated with courtesy and respect, granted all the rights and privileges guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

America. 2015.

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