Elsewhere In The Greater St. Louis Area
The following video contains the graphic image of the killing of a young man, as well as strong language. View at your own discretion.
While I applaud the St. Louis police for releasing this video of the shooting of Kajieme Powell, I think it offers the public an opportunity to have a real discussion of police procedures and the use of deadly force. I would like to copy and past a comment I made on Facebook, then expand upon it a bit.
Let’s assume for the moment the young mad had a knife. Let us also assume that when the police pulled up, they saw the knife. They also had to have their radio on, knowing back-up was on the way, no more than a minute or two out. They see a man holding a knife, but they can also see, very clearly, several other people who, while keeping their distance, do not feel immediately threatened by this person. It seems to me they have several options at this point. Sit in the car and wait for back-up to arrive, giving them a chance to figure out how to approach the young man; try and engage him in some kind of conversation, to determine if he is either on drugs, suffering some kind of mental illness, or just angry; get out of the car, no guns drawn, and order him to drop the knife and assume a position of submission. Get out of the car with guns drawn and do the same thing without firing, waiting to see if he charged, approached them in a threatening manner, or otherwise became a direct threat to their life, or the life of others; get out of the car, as they did, guns drawn, order him to drop the knife, and when he didn’t open fire. The idea that we should allow officer discretion in each and every instance where they discharge their weapon in essence means that the police operate without any guidance, without any accountability, and outside the restraints of proper procedure and conduct. While I have respect for what police officers do, I do not and will not make some odd leap that states that therefore we who do not do what they do cannot and should not judge their actions in any given moment. On the contrary, in a society in which we all are subject to laws, the police do not wear an exception under their badge or in their holsters. These officers, from everything I saw, made at the very least, a very bad judgment call. A young man is dead because of that call, and because a young man is dead, more scrutiny is necessary from those of us who weren’t there rather than less. It seems to me all those who wish us to defer to the police officer’s judgment in the moment have it all backwards.
Deferring to the snap judgments of police officers acting in any particular moment, allowing that to be the sole criteria for judging their actions, for all practical purposes silences any possible criticism of any police action at any given time. Police officers are subject to the law as any other person, and therefore accountable to that law. We do allow for deadly force by the police in certain given conditions, e.g., they feel an immediate threat to their own lives or the life of someone else. The question becomes: In this particular instance, in what way did the officers feel themselves in immediate danger? Because a young man was carrying a knife and did not immediately acquiesce to their demand to drop it and allow them to arrest him?
We as the public have a duty not to defer to any given officer’s discretion. On the contrary, that discretion must become the subject of intense scrutiny, in particular when a person is killed by the police in the course of the police doing their jobs. The police are supposed to be trained, setting aside personal discretion to follow laws and rules of conduct and policies of police departments; deferring to individual judgment makes them no longer police officers, but random individuals who exist outside any accountability at all.
A young man is dead, and it seems to me options were available to the officers on the scene that could have prevented that outcome. To demand that I should not question the officers’s actions or judgments either because I am not a police officer or because the officers’s actions were theirs and theirs alone is to set the police above the law, rather than those who enforce the law by arresting those suspected of a crime. At the end of the day, the incident is not an individual’s judgment call. It is, rather, whether or not the officers’s actions conformed not only to proper police procedure, but made every effort to preserve and protect their own lives, the lives of others, and the lives of a young man who, at this point, was just a person walking up the street carrying a knife that might – or might not – be used as a weapon.
Until someone is willing to demand police accountability, young men like Kajieme Powell will continue to die.