WHITEWASH

Every major city has attempted to improve – in a "let's not actually address the problem" sort of way – community-police relations in recent years by establishing some sort of ostensibly civilian review or oversight board. In theory, this provides a layer of accountability over law enforcement who otherwise seem to act with impunity. In practice, these organizations are loaded up with carefully selected, inevitably very old or very white (preferably both) people whose reflex is to make excuses for police no matter what they do. When your Review and Accountability Board judges that every police-involved shooting is justified, it doesn't take people long to figure out that it might not be a source of independent oversight after all.

Seattle offers us an outstanding example of the phenomenon when its review board ruled not merely that the Seattle PD killing of 20 year old Tommy Le was justified because police "thought" he was holding a knife (it was a pen) but also that even if they HAD realized he was holding a pen it would have been justified anyway because a pen “can be used as an improvised weapon. Aimed at vulnerable parts of the body, like the face or throat, it can cause serious bodily injury if used to stab someone.”

The report similarly concluded that Le was advancing on the officers – a linchpin of their case for having used lethal force against him – without addressing the autopsy report indicating he was shot in the back twice.

Le clearly was on drugs when confronted – he was screaming and referring to himself as "The Creator" – so it's not inconceivable that he might have been hard to handle. But if police cannot handle a stoned kid holding a pen with anything short of shooting him three times, then that is a remarkable indictment of how bad the Seattle Police are at their jobs. It's certainly not a justification for their actions.

The review board's statement is exceptional here. It doesn't stop, as it could have, at whitewashing the shooting. Everyone expects that when police departments and their apologists investigate themselves they will conclude inevitably that the officers "feared for their safety" and thus had no choice but to shoot the suspect however many times they felt appropriate. But they go on to state that even if a set of circumstances that did not exist had existed, the shooting still would have been justified. The officers asserted all along that they believed he was holding a knife. Hey that's great, but even if you guys knew fully well that it was a pen you can still plug the kid because, hey, a pen can be a super dangerous weapon too, in certain scenarios we've seen in movies.

It's useful signaling to the police to let them know just how far the institutions that allegedly oversee them will go to cover for them.

21 thoughts on “WHITEWASH”

  • Well, Ed, he was doing those things WNBW*, but the same thing might have happened if WAS white and it WAS a knife and he WAS stabbing people, including cops**….

    * While Not Being White

    ** Okay, I'm kidding. If he was stabbing cops he would look like red swiss cheese.

  • Thanks for saying that, Ed. We don't hear it often enough.

    Even if we had decent oversight we'd have punishment and not prevention. Whenever I tell people I think cops shouldn't have guns they counter with "what about bad guys with guns" to which I deftly parry with "the cops will have to use their brains." That stops everything, sometimes with laughter. Nobody seems to believe that's possible that for some reason. Even non-white, non-old people.

    [Insert obligatory Andy Griffith/MAGA reference and watch right wing gaskets blow.]

  • Don't forget too, if he had nothing in his hands, he'd be a kung-fu/karate master because you know all Asians are into that shit and have a black belt or equivalent in several styles. Just like how black people have superhuman strength and are usually 8-15 inches taller when racist cops kill them.

  • Police shootings again and again revolve around the idea of whether police feel legitimate fear when they pull the trigger…a nearly unprovable, and certainly unlitigable claim…and almost never focus on the question of whether police could have kept themselves out of the potentially lethal situation in the first place.

    For their own safety and public safety, police need to learn how to keep themselves out of reach and danger when confronting an unknown situation. A badge is NOT a shield, and no cop worth their pension should be wading into a confrontation with their hand on their sidearm in a any doubt about how that is likely to end. Hint: SOMEONE is going to die.

  • You know, this blog post could be construed as a weapon against the police because someone could read this essay and attack the police. I think the police are justified in shooting this blogger.

  • Think of all the non-lethal weapons those guys had attached to their utility belts that they DIDN'T choose to deploy before reaching for the lethal service pistols.

    In the military you need to see Capability, Opportunity, and Intent before drawing a deadly weapon. Okay, let's pretend a pen = Capability, sure, why not. Opportunity would mean that the assailant is within the maximum effective range of a pen, which is presumably hand to hand combat. Intent would mean that you have a clear signal through language or behavior that your life is forfeit if you don't respond to the situation with deadly force.

    If this were the heuristic used to evaluate police shootings, this shit would get wrapped up in a matter of weeks. I simply don't understand how the US military gets this right more often than not, and the US police seem to fuck it up every week.

  • Don't forget what the officer in Ferguson testified under oath: Black people have this super power whereby they can "bulk themselves up to run through bullets". That's why he could shoot the life out of him.

  • Sounds like the Seattle oversight board has been well-trained by the police and those who train police that any use of force is a-okay as long as you can make up some story about how you felt threatened.

  • I'll also mention the incident a few years back here in Cleveland where a police car chase occurred when an officer claimed he was shot at from a passing car. Eventually, 63 police cars were involved in the chase and it ended with some 150 bullets being fired – with the car pulled over and the occupants had their hands outside their windows. Further, the original office stood on the hood of the car and fired two dozen more bullets into these unarmed dead people. At his trial, he testified that he was "terrified" that these dead people might put the car into drive and run over him. "Terrified" "bulk himself up to run through bullets" – The words of PROFESSIONAL police officers.

  • defineandredefine says:

    @ Pretzelogic in Philly, PA:

    Yeah, but the sword ain't got shit on the gun…

    Alternatively, in the immortal words of Tom Araya of Slayer fame: "fuck the pen, cause you can die by the sword!"

  • "The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone's anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop's job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops." ~Robert Higgs

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