“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.
- “Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Oregon Edition,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Key West: The Newspaper [Florida], 01/29/16
- “Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Oregon Edition,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 01/29/16
- “Hands up don’t shoot, Oregon edition,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Queen Creek/San Tan Valley, Arizona Independent, 01/31/16
- “Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Oregon Edition,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Vernal, Utah Express, 02/02/16
- “Hands Up Don’t Shoot, Oregon Edition,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Sidney, Montana Herald, 02/03/16