Police Violence: Peace Isn’t The Priority

Korryn Gaines and son
Korryn Gaines and her son (photo widely distributed, allegedly from Facebook)

Precisely how did Korryn Gaines die? We don’t know, and probably never will.

The Baltimore County, Maryland Police Department admits that one of its officers shot her dead on August 1. In fact, the department admits that the officer shot first and that Gaines then returned fire in self-defense and defense of her five-year-old son (no, the department does not use those terms) before being gunned down.

The police also admit that before forcing their way into Gaines’s apartment and killing her, they went out of their way to ensure  their actions would be hidden from public view. The department contacted two social media services, Facebook and Instagram, asking that Gaines’s accounts be disabled so as to cut off her photo and video streams of what was happening. To their everlasting shame, the two firms complied with the request.

So we don’t know what happened. But we have a pretty good idea what happens next: The Baltimore County Police Department will “investigate” itself and announce that it has cleared itself and the unidentified officer who killed Gaines (he or she is currently on paid vacation, aka “administrative leave,” until the “investigation” is over) of any wrongdoing.

Baltimore County police chief James Johnson  characterizes his department’s desire for “peace” as the overriding priority justifying the concealment operation. Social media contacts needed to be stopped from urging her “not to comply with negotiators’ request that she surrender peacefully,” he says. “For hours, we pleaded with her to end this peacefully.”

Let’s dispense with the risible claim that “peace” was the priority here. Had that been the case, Johnson could have just called it a night and directed his officers to get in their cars and drive away.  Problem solved. Easy, peace-y.

If the priority was not “peace,” then what was it?

Officer safety? No.  Sending an officer into an apartment occupied by an armed woman isn’t very safe for the officer at all.

Public safety? No. At least one police officer fired multiple rounds — firing first, remember? — in an apartment building. Those rounds were probably 9mm, 10mm or .45 caliber rounds which could have penetrated walls (Gaines was allegedly armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, a much safer weapon for people on the other side of a wall).

The Baltimore County Police Department’s number one priority, their overriding concern, wasn’t peace, or officer safety, or public safety. It was — as has become the case with many American police departments, much of the time —  successful exercise of authority at any price.

That’s why the Baltimore County PD covered up the details of their killing of the ninth American woman of color to die at police hands this year. Just like a cat in a litter box.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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  • JdL

    Should men and women of conscience call for cops to be shot on sight? Cops are making zero effort to bridge the gap; in fact, they’re doing everything they can to separate themselves from normal people so they can murder us all that much more easily. If a gang of criminals runs around killing people gratuitously, is preemptively blasting them a sin?

    • To me the real issue is at what point morality and practicality converge. That is, when the answer to both of the following questions becomes “yes”:

      1) Is shooting police on sight an act of self-defense under the “reasonable person” standard? (That is, is the propensity of cops toward lethal violence sufficiently ubiquitous that a reasonable person, upon seeing a cop, would fear death or grievous bodily harm at that cop’s hands?)

      2) If the answer to (1) is “yes,” at what point can reasonable people hope to prevail not just over a single police officer, but over the 1.1 million police officers who are likely to come to aid or avenge the death of the cop in (1)?

      In my view, the case for (1) is getting stronger every day.

      And in my view, if police don’t, as you put it, “make an effort to bridge the gap” by cutting back on unjustifiable killings by police and supporting real punishment for (instead of circling the wagons around) killer cops, the point referred to in (2) is going to eventually arrive.

      So I guess if I was advising police officers as a group on how to deal with the current situation, my advice would be “if you want to live, time to start seriously unfucking yourselves.”

  • Absolutely. Well said, Thanks.