Tag Archives: police violence

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.


Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Oregon Edition

English: A Picture of FBI SWAT officers. Origi...
A Picture of FBI SWAT officers. Originally from http://buffalo.fbi.gov/specialty_programs.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“They shot him right there, he was just walking — I saw it,” says Victoria Sharp . “I swear to God, he was just walking with his hands in the air.” She’s describing the January 26 killing of LaVoy Finicum by FBI agents and an Oregon State Police SWAT team.

Sharp’s account doesn’t go uncontested. Mark McConnell, described as a “witness” even though he was a mile away at the time of the shooting and was just “told” what happened, describes Finicum as “charging” the police. And unidentified “law enforcement sources” tell CNN that Finicum “reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun.” Grainy overhead video of the shooting, subsequently released by the FBI, does more to stir the pot than to resolve the conflicts of account.


Sound familiar? It should. There’s another pair of competing legends in the making, both of which will incorporate preferred truths and discard inconvenient facts to reach the desired conclusions.

Most of those who decried police actions to evict the Occupy demonstrators and  wanted Ferguson, Missouri police officer Daren Wilson’s head on a platter for the killing of Michael Brown have already written the Oregon occupiers off as “terrorists” and pigeonholed Finicum’s death as “suicide by cop.”

Most of those who wanted the smelly hippies of Occupy swept from the streets and would cheerfully vote for Wilson for president if he was old enough to run, on the other hand, probably consider the Oregon occupiers heroes and Finicum a martyr.

I find myself in a strange position here. For once, I’m the moderate.

I don’t know exactly what happened on Canfield Drive in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, or along US 395 in rural Oregon on January 26, 2016. Neither, in all likelihood, do you. We weren’t there. All we can do is choose which glass to see those events through. Darkly.

I take that back. There’s another thing we can do. We can reaffirm the basic American principle that law enforcement personnel and other government employees aren’t special.

When a cop shoots someone under circumstances brought into question by credible evidence and/or testimony, that cop should be charged and tried just like you or I would be.

Culpability in Finicum’s death should be sorted out by a jury on the basis of reasonable doubt or proof of guilt beyond such doubt. The fact that his killer or killers wear badges and collect government paychecks is irrelevant to the matter.

Update: This column was revised the day after initial publication to reflect the release of FBI video of  Finicum’s death.

Thomas L. Knapp 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.


Cops Should be Held to Higher, Not Lower, Standards

The six Baltimore Police officers charged in Freddie Gray’s homicide.
The six Baltimore Police officers charged in Freddie Gray’s homicide. Top row left to right: Caesar R. Goodson Jr., Garrett E. Miller and Edward M. Nero. Bottom row left to right: William G. Porter, Brian W. Rice and Alicia D. White. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t live in Baltimore. I will not be a juror on any of the cases relating to Freddie Gray’s death from injuries he sustained while in police custody. I’m not going to predict the verdicts in those cases, or speculate as to what those verdicts should be.  Those accused of crimes are entitled to fair trials, presumption of innocence, and a burden on the prosecutor to prove the charges beyond reasonable doubt.

That said, the handling of this case, and of most alleged crimes in which police officers are suspects, demonstrates some severe inequities that tend to explain why we see people protesting police violence on the streets.

If you and I go out and abduct someone off the street, hog-tie him, throw him in a vehicle, then drop him off severely injured at a hospital, we’re not going to walk free for a week between then and his death. After he dies, we’re not going get ten days off with pay while a prosecutor conducts a leisurely investigation. We’re not going to make bail without seeing the inside of a holding cell (if we’re allowed bail at all).

We’re going to go directly to jail, without passing Go. We’re going to be immediately charged with kidnapping and assault, and a few days later we’re going to be charged with murder. We’re going to cool our heels in jail for a couple of days before our arraignments and bail hearings.

Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12. He died on April 19. It wasn’t until April 21 that the six officers involved in his abduction and death were suspended (with pay). They were not charged with a crime until May 1. Then they were booked and immediately released on bail.

The difference between you and I and those six cops is that they’re government employees with shiny badges. That’s it. That’s all.

Defenders of the existing system want us believe that, having entrusted those government employees with those shiny badges, we owe them an additional duty of special lenience and extra benefit of doubt in all situations even remotely related to the exercise of their duties.

I say that’s exactly backward. The standards of behavior for cops should be higher, not lower, than for civilians precisely because of the special powers with which they are entrusted.

As soon as it became clear that the officers who arrested Freddie Gray had abused those powers — stopping him without probable cause and arresting him on charges for which they possessed no evidence (the knife he was carrying was legal), they should have been arrested and charged with false imprisonment and armed criminal action.  Followed, a few days later, by the charges relating to Gray’s death.

The “police force” as we know it is a young institution, dating back only a couple of centuries and mere decades in its current, abusively powerful form. The jury is still out on whether that institution can be reformed, or whether we’re better off abolishing it.

Thomas L. Knapp 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.