Last night brought the second homicide of 2011 in Tacoma. Two patrolmen found a suspicious person near a phone booth by the 76 Station near East Portland Ave. and Puyallup Ave. As they approached him, he pulled out a handgun and opened fire. The two patrolmen returned fire, killing him.
This is just the latest local police involved shooting and there are many people jumping to conclusions before all of the facts are in. At this point, there are very few facts. I’ll be writing about this in much more detail once more information has been released.
During KIRO 7’s newscast last night they talked to a guy who called himself ‘John’ who didn’t want his face shown and refused to talk to police. He said that the cops just walked up and shot the guy. There’s absolutely no reason to believe his story at this point. Let’s buy into his story for a moment.
Let’s pretend it’s true. You watch two cops shoot an unarmed man. Talking to the news is probably a good idea, but if you’re actually afraid of the police at this point, the thing to do is show your face to the world. If everyone knows who you are, then the odds of retaliation go down significantly. Of course this is all assuming you’re telling the truth and you really think the cops are just power mad killers. Then again, if you were just a guy who didn’t like cops and wanted to paint them in a bad light but didn’t really have anything on them, I’m willing to bet you might try to smear them with some made up story as to what ‘really’ happened.
Here’s a little secret. Cops are people. And they want to shoot people about as much as you or I want to shoot people. However, there are situations when the use of lethal force isn’t only okay, it’s outright necessary. A night where you’re fire your weapon at someone isn’t something any cop forgets. It’s a night that lives with them for the rest of their lives.
I’m not saying that every officer involved shooting is a good shoot. It’s just that there’s a fair amount of people out there that seem to assume the opposite. Too often people who weren’t in the situation and who don’t know the full facts of the case will spout off about how a cop didn’t need to use lethal force. Sometimes this is true. But the vast majority of the time the police officer involved used lethal force because their life or other lives were in direct danger.
This particular issue is a bit of a hot button locally. In 2009 six cops were killed in the line of duty in Western Washington. Four of them in an ambush in a coffee shop in Lakewood. In 2010, the amount of police involved shootings went up. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Any rational person could see and understand why a cop might be more willing to pull his piece after a year like that.
Of course, the first thing on anyone’s mind around here if they hear about a police shooting is John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver in Seattle who was shot last summer by a police officer seven seconds after the cop got out of his car. An inquest into the shooting determined that it may have been a criminal action the part of the police officer.
Sometimes the police feel they have to use lethal force. Are they always correct? Of course not. No one is. However, jumping to conclusions and just assuming that police officers are just shooting people for the fun of it is just stupid. The facts of the case will reveal themselves. They always do. Even in the case of John T. Williams, what really happened has come out. Until then, let’s give the police the benefit of the doubt. I for one say they’ve earned it for putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect the people of Tacoma.
Update: Police have identified the man who was shot as 42-year-old Robert O’Connell. More soon.