State of Things

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This was how the sky looked yesterday evening.

An unsteady calm has settled over the region for the moment. However, the last time things “calmed” down to any degree was on Saturday, and in seems there’s validity to the theory that the constant rain that day reduced the violence. After all, last Sunday and the Monday that followed it were arguably the most violent days to date. Sunday, after all resulted in the activation of the National Guard. I’ve been fortunate that I personally haven’t had to be in Ferguson since Sunday Night/Monday Morning. It is interesting that while last night, Tuesday Night 8/20/14 was relatively calm, the night was rocked with severe thunderstorms.

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The Grand Jury is already in session, hearing evidence and deciding the fate of Ofc. Darren Wilson. There has been a large push by the media and those in the community to demand that St. Louis County Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, recuse himself from the case. The argument against McCulloch has resulted in one of the most backwards and absurd point of views I’ve ever heard.

As far as I’ve seen, no one has accused McCulloch of misconduct or racism. However, there’s this notion that he is unqualified to prosecute this case in particular because he actively has working relationships with officers during the course of his official duties. The absurdity is that ALL prosecutors have working relationships with officers. Unless every prosecutor independently prosecuted a different case in a different county for every case, there is no way for them to not have a relationship of some kind with the police. In fact, dealing with police for better or worse is sort of a job requirement. Interestingly no one is accusing McCulloch of having a personal relationship or even a close working relationship with Darren Wilson specifically, which to me is evidence that the argument is baseless.

What’s more, there’s been some focus on McCulloch’s family history and the fact that he is the son of a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black man. If that discredits him from working cases involving officer related shootings and black men, why has it not been a problem before now? Why has it not been a problem until a large segment of the public prejudged this case?

Speaking of prejudice, Jay Nixon called for a “vigorous prosecution.” Yet, McCulloch is the one who is not objective here?

Below are some pictures I’ve been compiling of the events of the last eleven or so days. Most are from Instagram or the media. If you have any pictures or video that you think are worth watching, link to them in the comments section.

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17 thoughts on “State of Things

  1. Monday’s clash near the QT from the Vice Media livestream. Link goes to the time in the video just before smoke is fired. You can hear what sounds like an initial gunshot, followed by a bottle being thrown, but more dramatic is the sound of live ammo whizzing overhead a bit later. Start with your volume low, as the LRAD is active. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmqHVKNZkhM#t=9945

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  2. Interesting discussion on the dilemma a police officer faces when confronted by a threat. I’ve been discussing just that on several other blogs relative to the shooting and death of an apparently mentally-ill man near Ferguson but just across the St. Louis city limit this week. There’s a clear video clip of the whole incident which takes virtually all the guesswork out of it, and it is disturbing. The subject was pacing back and forth with a knife when the squad car pulled up and two officers got out. They immediately drew their pistols and as the man approached them at a walk, they fired 9 shots, 6 of which hit the target and killed him. The whole thing took less than 30 seconds and the last two shots were fired after the man hit the ground.

    The police Chief stated that the officers were equipped with Tasers but that those were not used because they weren’t considered reliable enough.

    Mentally ill people are an obvious problem in society and I’d be interested in a cop’s viewpoint on encountering them, as in this case. It seems to me that this was not a necessary death. The man hadn’t harmed any of the numerous people around him prior to the arrival of the police. Why even have Tasers if they aren’t to be used?

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    • I think there’s a lot of myths surrounding how useful the taser is. When it works, it incapacitates people for approximately five seconds. It doesn’t knock them out. It is conceivable in the case you’re talking about, the man could have simply clenched down on the blade handle harder. Once the five seconds are over, the man is once again a threat, but now he’s quite a bit angrier. You still have to go hands on with him at that point in order to take him into custody. The knife is still a threat if he doesn’t drop it while being tased.

      Of course, that’s provided that the taser worked as advertised. Since the barbs shoot in a v, it’s not exactly hard to miss with one or both barbs. Then you have instances where the barbs get caught in one’s clothing and have no effect. Some people also react to the device differently for various biological or chemical reasons. One could argue that they still have the drive stun feature, the mode where you simply walk up and touch them with the taser, but using that in a situation with a man wielding a knife is supremely dangerous and ill advised.

      With that said, when an officer deploys a taser in a situation like this, a lot of training will say that one officer uses the taser while the other draws his gun. If the taser fails and the suspect attempts to hurt one or both of the officers, then the other officer can use deadly force if warranted. I can’t say that what they did was wrong. The mentally disturbed suspect wanted to die and was clearly committed to that goal. This could have gone a lot of different ways. It is fortunate that no one else was hurt but an officer need not wait for a bystander to get hurt before acting. I also wonder how this would have played out if the man had been pacing back and forth as opposed to approaching officers as he did.

      The use of deadly force is never a simple discussion. There’s also a clarification that needs to be made that, in the force continuum that governs when a use of force is administratively justified, Tasers are not a replacement for deadly force, but more a comparable replacement or option for chemical spray, mace, or OC (oleoresin capsicum). Use of a knife in a threatening way is considered deadly force by the courts and I think it’s pretty clear that the disturbed man tragically knew that.

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      • Thanks for your dispassionate reply. I am surprised to hear you think the Taser is effective for only 5 seconds. This runs counter to everything I’ve read and seen about the weapon. I would be interested in data and references.

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      • http://www.taser.com/images/training/training-resources/downloads/taser_user_update_v_18.pdf

        The 5 second cut-off is a design feature. As far as I can tell, the above article doesn’t specifically address the reasons behind the 5 second cut off, but it does reference it. “Each trigger pull and/or 5-second cycle or discharge must be legally justified.” It’s actually called, “The 5 second ride” in law enforcement circles and is designed purposefully so that if you have to use the taser longer than 5 seconds, you must knowingly release and depress the trigger a second time.

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      • I understand about “the 5 second ride” now. I also visited several Taser sites and the Wikipedia site on Tasers. It appears that the 5 seconds refers only to the duration of the shock and not to the length of incapacitation. One site said this:

        TASER technology does not rely on pain compliance localized to the point of contact; rather it affects the sensory and motor functions of the nervous system and inhibits muscular control. This keeps an attacker down and immobilized for 30 seconds not just “stunned” for as long as you maintain contact.

        If this is the case, then I think it would probably have saved a life in the instance we’re discussing here. The man’s arms were at his side when he was killed.

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      • If I could post it without sacrificing my anonymity, I would post the video of the time I was tased. Everyone in my academy class was tased and we all got up immediately afterward. I can also confirm anecdotally, that the same has happened every time I’ve ever deployed or witnessed someone else deploy a taser. As soon as the device kicks off, they’re fighting again, usually from the ground, but still fighting. I’ve never seen anything remotely resembling thirty seconds.

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  3. It seems with such a socio-political price to be paid for shooting unarmed people, that the police academies might think of a developing different non-lethal strategies for dealing with potential threats. Why is it always – shoot to kill? Why not shoot to maim or slow down/disable? You would still deal with potential lawsuits for the “oops” situations but at least there would be fewer deaths and less national scrutiny.

    What also disturbs me is when a police force has this hostile general comportment. I noticed when I was working as a taxi driver in New York, that sometimes I would pick up or drop off the young cadets at the NYC Police Academy. It disturbed me that as young cadets – they were sweet kids, but once they turned into cops – they became “dicks.” Lots of NYC cops, the way they dealt with the public, with this nonchalant hostility – I couldn’t help but despise these guys who oozed angry vibes similar to a thug with an attitude. And to have guys like that policing a neighborhood that is already on edge, is just asking for trouble.

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    • It’s my impression, and I will admit that I don’t have sources to back it up, that lawsuits are prevalent in cases involving nonlethal gunshot injuries suffered by police onto suspects. What’s more they have legal standing due to department policy and the definition of deadly force. This is the unfortunate side effect of legally defining firearm use as always deadly force. What’s more, limbs are much harder to hit and risk injuring bystanders. “Shoot to kill” is a misnomer. Shoot to stop is the reality.

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      • On further searching I found quite a lot of testimony from police about the unreliability of the Taser. I’m convinced. The question would appear to be, why even buy them? (I found one site mentioning frequent visits to even the White House by a Taser lobbyist.) Seems to me like something better shouldn’t be that hard to invent. I’ve been hearing for years about things like net-throwing guns and sonic devices.

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      • Like many other tools, the point seems to be a less-lethal device to equalize a situation that is dangerous but not quite dangerous enough to warrant deadly force. While Tasers aren’t meant as a replacement for deadly force (in their current form), they can be used to take down a suspect who may physically have an advantage on the officer. In a physical altercation, a Taser is much more humane and safe than, for instance, a collapsible baton. Using a Taser is also more politically acceptable when viewed by the public then witnessing an officer striking a suspect and drawing immediate comparisons to the Rodney King case. These reasons make the device worthwhile even when considering their flaws and limitations.

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  4. Yes we “Mentally ill people are an obvious problem in society” aren’t we? It’s so nice to be referred as society’s problem. This could have been your son or daughter, but the mentally ill are easy targets. Five years ago no one cared to even talk about us. Now, when one of us is gunned down unfairly (you know he was), suddenly let’s talk about the “problem we are” until the next time.
    As if anyone is doing anything about it. Money for research? The percentage for cures or research are such a tiny spec compared to causes people truly care about: cancer, stem cell, altzheimers, etc. State hospitals are closing. Even ones for seniors (one in our state last year.) To shove out mentally ill seniors. How pathetic and heartless. Where are they going? There’s part of the problem, the breakdown in resources. The other is compliance.Only 50% of Americans who are mentally ill are receiving treatment for either lack of resources or stigma in receiving them. This man could have been a 50%er. I know people who are both, most are receiving treatment though. I live in a suburbian area where there are a lot of resources.

    I do feel badly for those who aren’t receiving treatment. While as an author I live hand to mouth, I manage to have a top doctor, the best meds and don’t drink so they work. I loathe when “we” are lumped together as a “problem” for society. Many, most are not. How many people are dangerous without mental illness?
    The mentally ill only committ 5% of violent acts. This means 95% of the people committing them are not. THey are you and most of the people on the block that you live on.
    None of us know what really went through his mind. Perhaps he was so depressed, suicidal or psychotic that he wanted to die. Did anyone consider tazering him a LOT and calling an ambulance. This wasn’t a gun show down folks. I mean someone could’ve gotten him submitted to the local hospital’s mental health floor. Then, HE could’ve decided after being stabolized if he truly wanted to die. Not have people make that decision while psychotic. That’s not when we make decisions for ourselves. Cops should know this with a knife at far range. I mean, come on. The public opinion is this, surely the cops knew this instinctively. A gun, sure. A knive not a few feet away? His hands calmly at his sides? Handcuffs AFTER? It’s bullshit. But, what’s another mentally ill person off the streets, right?

    And by the way, my mentally ill fiance was taken down, and subdued for more well over 10 minutes, by 6 tazers. It was plenty of time to take him to the station safely (True, there was no gun or knife, only a rage of kicks, cursing and threats.) I’m not saying mania is understood or easy to deal with. But it is not taught, often dealt with properly, and again, a trip to the ER is what we truly need in times of crisis. Big picture folks. It goes back to training and not being so quick to use the guns.
    True, not every situation calls for tazers. No one expects you to take a bullet in the line of duty. I personally would not want to be a police officer. (Not that they would let me!) I fully understand if a gun is pointed at you, short range or not, mentally ill or not, you must use deadly force.
    What we’re all talking about, really, is the gray area. THe area and actions one officer would have to prove should he find himself in court defending his chosen actions. That doesn’t happen enough, number one, and the law more often than not sides with the officer, number two. So right away, the perpetrator is at a disadvantage before they are even in court; if they make it there alive.
    My message: in the absense of a gun, use MORE than one tazer. (Again, if it’s possible.) Use 6 if you need to. It has been done many times. Call an abulance and get us in straightjackets. That’s what they’re for. Be quicker to put people you deem non-life threatening in your cars, until the ambulance arrives, before shooting. They should train you better. You should know better. I appreciate how much thought goes in to each situation, but you are not every cop. The police officer who needs to read this, most likely never will. Oh well.
    Send us to the flight deck. If we’re suicidal chances are we’ll want to live once the clouds lift again.
    Don’t make that decision for us.
    Well, if I’m ever suicidal, I’ll know just what to do.
    -Wendy K. Williamson
    author.

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    • A passionate response that I hope wasn’t directed at me since I never referred to mentally ill persons as a problem. A couple of issues I’d like to address. Tasers are only safe as long as they are used as directed. While I am legitimately glad your fiance was safe after being hit with six tasers and tased repeatedly for ten minutes straight, you have to understand that doing that is beyond the scope of training and policy primarily because doing so risks a very painful death for the suspect. The five second cutoff I’ve been discussing is a design feature because it limits the risk of death from a Taser deployment that lasts too long. No officer can accidentally keep applying the device in the heat of the moment without having to consciously decide to re-pull the trigger.

      As far as mentally ill persons and training are concerned, I think that St. Louis County in particular has done a better job of providing low or no cost training in these issues. The CIT program (Crisis Intervention Team) is frequently cited as beneficial to officers with more and more municipalities requiring their officers to attend. I will say that I think the best long term solution to improving outcomes with calls for service involving mentally ill persons would be hiring practices that target potential officers with empathy, patience, and compassion.

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