One of the most shocking things I learned talking with a Los Angeles Police Officer I became friends with while working as a reporter on my first job in L.A. was that LAPD cops were trained to “empty your revolver” whenever you fired at a person.
It’s not like in Hollywood cop movies, where you see cops in gun fights with “bad guys” and they’re trading shots with each other. What it usually involves is an officer feeling threatened, justifiably or not, and unloading his magazine as he or she pumps bullets into the target.
The explanation I was given was that if the person you’re shooting at is armed, or might be armed, you don’t want to just fire once, possibly not disabling your target, who can then fire back at you. So you just shoot everything you’ve got and odds are you’ve rendered your victim dead or incapable of responding.
Over and over, since that disturbing conversation, I’ve watched videos of police shootings, and it’s almost always the same: multiple shots fired in rapid sequence . Worse yet, there is the phenomenon of multiple police officers confronting an armed or potentially armed person — often someone at quite a distance who may only have a small knife or a bat or some other not terribly lethal weapon — and all the officers file their guns (remember the 41 bullets police fired at unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo as he stood on his front porch fumbling for his wallet?). This, by the way, my LAPD source explained, is considered a defense technique among officers: If everyone shoots, it’s not possible to assign blame for the police killing if it turns out the “perp” was unarmed and the shooting was unjustified.
And so it goes. This week it’s Kenosha, Wisconsin, where the 29-year-old black father Jacob Blake was gunned down with seven shots fired point blank into his back by Rusten Sheskey, a white seven-year veteran officers who was one of three white cops trying to apprehend him as he tried to climb into his car, where his three boys, aged 3, 5 and 8 were sitting.
Incredibly, Blake is still alive following that murderous fuscillage, though doctors report it would “take a miracle” for him to ever walk again, since the cops’ bullets reportedly severed his spine and shattered several of his spinal vertebra.
Let’s play devil’s advocate here for a moment and assume that Blake, who reportedly had left his car to break up a fight between two women and was going back to it when the police for whatever reason (possibly information that he had an outstanding warrant for a domestic dispute) decided to apprehend him. Say for argument’s sake that they thought he was going into his car to retrieve a gun that he then might use to shoot them. Or say he was carrying a small knife, as some have claimed. Three big white cops, already armed with tasers and side-arms, couldn’t gain control of his arms and stop him from going to his car until he’d been searched and cuffed and questioned? Really? Just look at them following him to the car, guns pointed at his head as he’s walking away from them before the shooting. If they were so worried about what the obviously unarmed guy was going to do, why didn’t one of them just tackle him? There were three of them there, all armed and with tasers. What is the matter with these officers?
And if they really did think he was going for a gun, wouldn’t one shot, fired at point blank range so it clearly wouldn’t miss its target — say at his upper right arm, or a leg — have eliminated the chance for his turning and shooting them? (There’s no evidence, by the way, that he had or was searching for a weapon. And believe me, if one existed, the police would have reported that by now, with the city of Kenosha erupting in riots and violence in the wake of the shooting of Blake!).
Cops in America like these trigger-happy racist thugs in Kenosha have been getting away with murder, especially of black males, for far too long. And part of the problem is this overuse of their guns to “make sure” their victims are not just wounded, but are well and truly dead. It’s a miracle already that Blake is not dead after those seven bullets, which reportedly also hit his stomach, kidney, liver and caused such damage to his intestines that he had to have some of his small intestine and most of his colon removed. (Police typically use dumdum bullets that expand on entering a body doing far more damage than a normal projectile.)
This shooting should never have happened. First of all, the police jeopardized the safety of three small children of Blake’s who could have been hit or killed by ricocheting bullets or fragments. (They’ve also permanently scarred those little kids who had to witness the shooting of their dad.)
Second, there was plenty of time for the three cops to de-escalate the situation and talk Blake into coming out of his car with his hands up. They could alternatively have just slammed the door on him and watched his actions from outside the vehicle.
It’s not even clear why they went after him in the first place. The reports don’t make it appear that he had been threatening anyone, including the cops.
All that will eventually become clear in either a state investigation into the tragic shooting or in the inevitable civil suit for a wrongful shooting that will follow, with the Blake family already having retained Ben Crump, the same attorney who is representing the Floyd family in suing Minneapolis over the police murder of George Floyd.
But let me say this again: As long as American cops have a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later ethos and adhere to “shoot every bullet you’ve got if you fire your sidearm” and an “if one officer shoots, everyone shoots” practices, we’re going to have tragedies like the grave injuring of Jacob blake and the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot to death by a Cleveland dop within seconds of the arrival of a squad car in Cleveland that pulled up next to where he was sitting in a park handling (and not pointing) a toy pistol in his lap.
There is a reason why black people like Blake and Rice are shot, and often killed, by police in America at a rate double the rate for white people, and it is racism, pure and simple. Here’s what the Chicago Tribune reports from a multi-year review of fatal shootings by police:
“According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. As The Post noted in a new analysis published last week, that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.”
What this suggests, and what I suspect, is that that the combination of an ethos of shoot to kill and guidlines saying to empty your weapon when firing is something police actually apply with some discretion, using the deadly approach much more often when confronting a black person than a white one.
There is nothing remotely like the carnage caused by police here in countries like Europe, Japan, Taiwan or other places — even in more authoritarian regimes like Poland and Hungary. Police violence and killings here are an outlier in modern “civilized” societies.
That should be unacceptable to all of us.
It’s dubious that America is the “land of the brave,” but certainly police, who whenever they kill an unarmed victim immediately explain that they “feared for their lives” as justification, cannot lay claim to that appellation.
Nor is this situation being helped by Trump’s announcement that he is sending “federal troops” to “restore order” in Kenosha. Like that worked out so well in Portland when he sent his armor-clad Homeland Security thugs there to do the same thing…