Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Oscar Grant”

Intent to Kill vs. Shoot to Kill – Tom Rossi

There seem to have been a lot of police shootings in the last few years. I’ve been wordering about this. It seems that, if a cop feels he has to shoot at a suspect, the cop most often aims for the chest and pulls the trigger multiple times. Sometimes multiple cops pull their triggers multiple times.

This is fine in the cases in which it’s called for – and armed suspect has killed someone (or a few someones) and there has been a “hot pursuit,” where the suspect is cornered and desperate. In these cases, letting him escape could easily prove fatal for innocent bystanders, or for the very cops in pursuit.

But there have also been shootings where it was unknown whether the suspect was armed. The cops, lately, always say, “He was reaching for his waistband,” or something like that. In these cases, the cops have thought (assuming they told the truth about the reaching) that the suspect was going for a gun. It’s a split-second decision, with lives at stake. And I think we all probably have a “better safe than sorry” reflex built into our brains that activates in these situations.

What I don’t understand is why the police, in these types of cases, shoot to kill. It’s well publicized that cops are trained only to draw their weapons when they intend to kill the suspect. But I think the meaning of this has been lost.

The “only if you intend to kill” imperative was, I think, implemented because guns are dangerous – even in the hands of a well-trained police officer. It would be foolhardy to pull a gun in a situation where you were sure you didn’t want the suspect to die. Shooting a person and hoping they won’t die is a fool’s bet.

The message to young cops is: don’t pull your gun unless it’s okay that the suspect dies. But the intent of that “rule” is not that, once your gun is out, you should shoot to kill. It’s there to make the officer realize that, if you shoot someone, there is a good chance they will die, so don’t take shooting someone lightly, nor even un-holstering your gun.

But once that gun is out, there is nothing – no rule, no imperative, that says: “You must now kill this person, and make absolutely sure he or she is dead.”

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An example where shooting to kill was unnecessary and uncalled-for came all too soon after Johannes Mehserle was given a light slap on the hand by the court for killing Oscar Grant – a time of turmoil for the city of Oakland, California. Derrick Jones, who was unarmed, was shot while running from the police and “reaching for his waistband several times.” (my emphasis) I guess the cops put up with him reaching for his waistband a few times, but then it was just one too many.

The police shot Jones at least five times in the chest and abdominal area, later making a kind of “better safe than sorry” argument. But why? Why couldn’t they have shot him in the leg, and taken one extra second to assess the danger that Jones might have a gun? This seems a reasonable course of action given the circumstances.

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Police officers point out that they are under incredible stress in these situations. But the police are trained for this and they get practice in the real world, especially in a city know for gang violence. Cops are supposed to be the ones to keep cool heads when everyone else is screaming and panicking.

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By and large, cops are brave individuals who perform a great service to our communities. But sometimes, a cop can let emotions rule his or her actions, just like the average citizen might. I think the policy that a cop shouldn’t pull his or her gun unless there is an intent to kill the suspect should be further explained and explored while cadets are in training. It seems like a policy with solid motivation but somewhat poor execution – with dire consequences at times.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Next Stop – Fruitvale Station – Norm Weekes

I’d like to reach out of the screen of your laptop or phone and choke you by the throat until you promise to see the movie Fruitvale Station. But that would be wrong.

imagesFruitvale Station is the story of the murder of Oscar Grant by a BART policeman early New Year’s Day 2009. The audience gets to ride along with Oscar on his last day and reveals the imperfect but very human Oscar Grant. This is not a movie review. For the record it’s a stunning piece of filmmaking from the Bay Area’s own first time feature film director Ryan Coogler.

imgres-1Fruitvale Station also won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance so it’s not just me talking that talk. This transcends entertainment and becomes part of the discussion we won’t have about race in America. It’s the part of the race discussion about African American males as discounted, devalued and people to fear. Hard to emphasize with people you fear. If your empathy is missing Fruitvale Station will help you find it. Here is  an opportunity through the art of cinema to understand a segment of your community that you probably don’t know, may be terrified of and have trouble relating to.

Unless you work or live with the peeps you just know us from music, movies and News at 11. President Obama broke through the noise a bit in his “Listen Up White People” speech after the Trayvon Martin verdict but there will be no follow up. We always talk about having a discussion about race and never do it. I too am complicit. I think after the age of 12 it’s a useless conversation to have. The reason the Trayvon, Oscar and a long line of young African American men get murdered is because we’re demonized, stereotyped and dehumanized as part of the narrative. And the reason this continues is because we don’t know each other as people. We don’t break bread together, worship together or play together.

Fruitvale Station allows you, the good meaning person who is not racist but doesn’t really care about African Americans, a chance to relate without going through the trouble of actually having to spend time with us. It can’t get any more convenient than that. Want to get to know black folk without spending time with them?  There’s a not an app for that but there’s a movie for that!

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By the end of Fruitvale Station you’ll be balling your eyes out because you’ll know you have more in common with Oscar Grant and his family than you thought possible. Black kids have been killed and devalued in our society for longer than I can remember. See Fruitvale Station so the next time a cop, gang banger or neighborhood watchman executes an unarmed black kid you’ll feel the dimension of the tragedy.

If you want to connect with your fellow Americans start the trip at Fruitvale Station.

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Norm Weekes lives in the East Bay and volunteers with non-profits working in social justice and digital literacy. He is a volunteer at The Mentoring Center and Oakland Digital.

Riots… In Canada?

I’ve been on a vicarious high this week. The Boston Bruins, last Wednesday night, won their first Stanley Cup since 1972 – the days of the legendary Bobby Orr.

Of course since I’m a fan of the Bruins, their winning makes me a winner, right? OK, I’ve already pointed out how stupid that is. But I’m still happy. And I have to admit I have cheated a little. Because of my complex hockey history, I’m a fan of three teams, the Boston Bruins, the L.A. Kings, and the Colorado Avalanche (formerly the Quebec Nordiques). But I’m much more a fan of the game than any team.

Relax, this hasn’t changed to a sports column. What happened after the Bruins glorious victory provides quite an insight into human nature.

Hockey is perceived as a violent game. For those of you unfamiliar, the game is full of what is called, “checking”, where the player is run into, sometimes VERY hard, by a player on the opposing team. This is generally completely within the rules and not a big deal until someone goes beyond good sportsmanship and just tries to hurt the other player.

It’s also true that you see a lot of fights on the ice in hockey, but outside of the pros, the rest of us usually end up having a beer afterwards and saying things like, “You got me pretty good with that one punch, there.”

Up until now, I have had two views of Canadians. Since I was once a part of the world of hockey (at a relatively low level) I have known a lot of Canadians and I have heard a lot of their stories of fights. I also knew a guy from way out in the farm-land boondocks of Saskatchewan who had worked at a bar where there were some very serious fights.

But my view of the typical Canadian was exemplified the other night by a guy I bumped into – who happened to be from Vancouver. It was the night after Boston’s game 7 victory and I was proudly wearing my Bruins Jersey while hanging out in San Francisco. He spotted me and he smiled and said something like, “I’ll bet you’re pretty happy!” I said, “You bet! Great series, eh?” Funny that I’m the one who said, “eh.”

Anyway, he told me that he was from Vancouver and I immediately said that his team had played really well and nobody should be ashamed about it. He agreed and we talked for a while about the riots that erupted in the streets of Vancouver after their loss. He was certainly ashamed about that. I said, “That’s not at all my image of Canada.” He said, “Mine neither.” I said that this wouldn’t have happened in Montreal because people would be afraid of messing up their suits and ties. He laughed. Montreal fans used to dress up for the games.

Even while the riots had started, inside the rink the real Canucks fans were cheering for their great team – even though they had lost:

That’s class.

So how does a riot happen when there’s really no great injustice as motivation? The answer (if it is an answer) is “mob mentality.” People in a crowd, especially when they are already emotionally worked up about something (and even more if they’ve been drinking), can all of a sudden start to follow and imitate the crowd’s most rebellious and active members. They can participate in or accept others’ criminal behavior. They can act in ways that they would never act on their own.

It’s just a theory of mine, but I think that these situations are opportunities for our imprisoned, inner-selves to finally cry out – even if it’s in completely inappropriate ways. The life of the modern human being is essentially an all-too-well-defined cage, even when it seems a pleasant cage. Many books, TV shows, and movies have explored the idea that humans value freedom above all else. But modern life is about stability, predictability, indebtedness, and strict rules of behavior for thousands of situations. Any release from this cage, no matter how stupid, unproductive, or even harmful can sometimes be welcomed.

Uh oh. It seems I’ve bitten off a huge bite to chew again. Maybe I’ll have to come back to this in a future post.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Should police have more tasers? -Tom Rossi

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there is renewed discussion about Tasers. Police departments, including BART police, are contemplating making Tasers standard equipment for officers. Of course, this has re-opened the incident that never really closed – the shooting of Oscar Grant by  BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle.

The following is a re-posting of what I wrote following the sentencing of former officer Mehserle. It once again seems relevant.

Oscar Grant: Overkill

The shooting of Oscar Grant was the result of the de-facto policy of many police officers: the practice of using so-called non-lethal force as a form of punishment. If you believe that officer Mehserle did in fact pull his firearm by mistake, then that is an admission that he intended to taser a suspect that had already been subdued and was clearly complying.

Grant may not have been in compliance all along (although he was certainly not violent), but the minute the other officer put his knee on his neck, Grant put his arms and legs back into a submissive position. His body language said, “OK, you’re really hurting my neck, so I’m going to cooperate.” It was only then that officer Mehserle pulled his weapon. This was all clearly visible in several of the videos taken by bystanders. This can be seen here:

We have seen this repeated, although with lesser consequences, many times, thanks to citizen videos. Many police officers seem to have a nonchalant attitude when it comes to their tasers. But what would have been Mehserle’s sentence if he had actually tasered Grant, who then died of a heart attack? Under the law, this is an outcome that could be foreseen by a reasonable person – tasers cause a strong physiological reaction. Therefore, using a taser is an action that requires strong justification. And in fact, over 250 people have died in the United States from the Taser.

So, the issue would not have been whether or not the gun was used by accident, but WHY did Mehserle decide to use his taser under these conditions?

The job of a police officer is certainly one of the most difficult in modern society. Each day, an officer walks a thin, jagged line between levels of enforcement that are either too lax or overzealous. However, the function of the police is never to punish offenders, but to apprehend them using the least amount of force necessary.

The issue of the inappropriate use of force, whether lethal or non-lethal, has been overshadowed by the accident question and the race issue. But the more important question should be: Under what circumstances should the police use harmful or even potentially lethal force at all?

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Assault on the Casual Carpool: Day 2

A New Strategy.
An assertive, well-dressed woman sat herself down in the passenger seat of my car and immediately asked if she was required to pay the dollar. I replied that it was not mandatory, but welcomed. I recounted the mixed results of yesterday.

For 10 minutes we politely discussed the pros and cons of who should pay. She was extremely pleasant and non-confrontational. I was convinced that she was so concerned that she would ultimately offer the $1.

She didn’t. This left me even more confused. Had we not discussed it beyond her initial request and focused instead on other topics (NPR was anticipating the fallout of the verdict form the Oscar Grant trial), it would have felt okay. But she kept me in suspense for half the trip by discussing the issue.

Oh well. The other passenger said nothing and gazed out of the window the whole way.

And so it continues … On this 4th July weekend: God bless America and the Casual Car Pool.

Happy 4th,
Alon

ALON SHALEV
Oilspill dotcom – in paperback & currently on Amazon’s Kindle for $3.19.
More info at http://www.alonshalev.com/

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