Sunday, December 3, 2017

Simon Says

Alright, if you make another mistake, there is a very severe possibility you are both going to get shot, do you understand?
Eventually, according to Atlantic columnist Conor Friedersdorf, Daniel Shaver made one too many mistakes, and a Mesa, Arizona police officer shot him to death.

This is the part that kills me:
At approximately sixteen minutes and forty seconds on the recording Sgt. Langley shouted at Shaver, “If you do that again, we are shooting you. Do you understand?”
Sixteen minutes and forty seconds. The shooting of Tamir Rice is often looked upon as unjustified because the police officer opened fire within seconds of arriving on the scene. This shooting seems unjustified in part because of the amount of time during which Mr. Shaver was under duress. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find out how long during the overall eighteen minutes of video Mr. Shaver was trapped in the fatal game of Simon Says with the officers, but in any event, it was long enough for him to lose. And so I wonder why was the situation so drawn out, especially if officers were so concerned that Mr. Shaver may have had something dangerous concealed on his person. If every second that a person is effectively not under the complete control of the responding officers is a second in which a tragedy might unfold, keeping that number of second to a bare minimum seems like it would be a priority.

When you read the excepts of testimony in the case, it seems clear that the officers on the scene had come to the conclusion that Mr. Shaver was a criminal. He was guilty of something, even if they had no idea what, and therefore they had no responsibility to ensure a relatively positive outcome to this situation. So if the orders to do this and not do that went on forever, that wasn't their problem. Mr. Shaver had brought it upon himself by whatever unknown bad acts he'd committed.

When I've debated this sort of thing with people online, they are often at pains to say that in a situation like this, they would make sure to follow each and every one of an officer's instructions. What this case illustrates is that it's easy to say that when you don't know how long you're going to have to maintain the performance. There's an idea, perhaps born of watching too many police procedurals, that police will take complete control of a situation quickly and efficiently. Maybe a minute or three into an encounter, everything's handled, and if one complies with the three or four things they are told to do during that time, nobody is hurt and the task of working things out can begin.

But that's not the way this turned out. And despite my wonderment at how long this all appeared to take, I'm not of the opinion that officers intentionally dragged the whole scenario out for their own purposes. They were following a playbook of some or another sort, and that playbook called for a number of complicated and time-consuming moves, that, in the eyes of the officers, left no room for error.
[Mesa Officer Christopher Doane] also said he remembers Shaver crying. Still, he said, he didn't believe Shaver's tears were genuine because it appeared he was faking it in order to get some sort of advantage against the officers.
This I also find interesting. This whole episode is about a man who is unexpectedly confronted with a squad of heavily-armed police officers, and has been told on more than one occasion that if he does not do everything he is told, exactly as he is told to do it, he will be shot. But one of the officers on the scene testifies in open court to the effect, that he didn't believe the person on the business end of the weapons would be stressed out enough by this to cry. But he was shot specifically because, even though the officers outnumbered Mr. Shaver six-to-one, Officer Philip Brailsford felt threatened enough to use deadly force. When did we enter this world were stone-cold killers can pop up literally anywhere? After all, it wasn't like Mr. Shaver was wanted for a crime or anything. He'd simply been showing his pellet gun to a pair of fellow working-class people he'd met in a hotel.

While many police processes and procedures when dealing with potentially armed citizens (remember, Mr. Shaver wasn't a suspect in anything) are specifically designed to make sure that the officers have the upper hand, the officers themselves seem to be increasingly unaware of this, and of the opinion that at any moment, someone can whip out a weapon, and shoot his way to freedom against people already pointing guns at them.

But here's a simple question that I'm dying for an answer for: Why didn't the officers take the time for a visual inspection of Mr. Shaver when he came out of the hotel room? After all, a gun may be tucked into a waistband, but that doesn't make it two-dimensional; one would think that it would be possible to be reasonable sure one way or other other. Again, I presume that they has a reason. But without understanding what that reason was, it seems like an important oversight, especially in light of the fact that Mr. Shaver was shot to death because Officer Brailsford was convinced he was reaching for a hidden firearm.

One last thing: Mr. Friedersdorf makes the point that: “The case hasn’t attracted the higher degree of attention from the press, the public, or policing reform activists, partly because body-cam footage of the killing has been withheld from the media and partly because the cop and the dead man were both white, rendering the killing less controversial than one possibly animated by racism. But it warrants more attention than it has received.” But I also think that there is another aspect to this. “Brailsford is now on trial for second-degree murder.” The system working as it should, even in the aftermath of a horrendous act, rarely makes the news. Granted, it's nearly two years after Mr. Shaver was killed. I don't know how long it took for the decision to charge the officer to be made. Maybe there was an inexecusable delay. But maybe, as slowly as the wheels of justice grind, they are grinding in the way that people think the should.

I understand that I'm ignoring the main thrust of Mr. Friedersdorf's column, that shootings like that of Daniel Shaver should be publicized, because in order for the majority of Americans to be convinced that there is a problem, they have to be convinced it could happen to them. My White neighbors are more likely to write off people like Michael Brown as hardened criminals than they are people like Daniel Shaver, and so the more Daniel Shavers are brought to light, the more likely action is to be taken. I'm ignoring it because that much I know. The fact that people are the most interested in the rights of others like themselves is common knowledge, I suspect.

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