A question was posed about what could have been going through Kajieme Powell as he waited for St. Louis police to arrive. Lacking that magical power to read the minds of others, to project my thoughts into his and assume they were valid, I demurred. Of course, Powell can’t explain because he’s dead.
Authorities said Kajieme Powell stole donuts and energy drinks from a store yesterday afternoon, which prompted the owner to call police, according to KSDK. When two officers arrived shortly before 1 p.m., they said they observed Powell acting erratically. He refused to put down a knife when commanded to do so, police said.
Witnesses said the suspect yelled, “Shoot me now. Kill me now,” before approaching officers. Some people who saw the shooting described it as “suicide by cop,” according to USA Today.
Maybe. Or maybe Powell, a few miles away from Ferguson, decided to test the police, to challenge them to kill another young black man. Maybe he thought he would be a martyr to the cause. Or maybe he suffered from mental illness and lacked the ability to recognize that what he was doing was not merely wrong, but fatally dangerous. Maybe Powell could explain, but he can’t. He’s dead.
Even if it wasn’t a test for Kajieme Powell, it turned out to be one for the St. Louis police.
It’s not entirely clear what happened before the police officer shot and killed Powell. What is clear, in the video that juxtaposes the police press conference with the video of his killing, is that the story offered by Chief Sam Dotson of the St. Louis police bore no relation to what happened. No doubt he repeated what he was told, whether by the officers involved or through the chain on information that eventually bubbles up to the guy in a white shirt in front of the cameras. Either way, the story was nonsense. Completely, totally false.
If this was a test, the police failed. So too did Kajieme Powell.
This isn’t to say what did happen, and certainly not “why.” No doubt the St. Louis police were unaware that the whole scene was caught on video from a distance. Had they known, perhaps they would have been more circumspect in the story put out for public consumption. Or seized the video so no one would be able to put a compilation, as above, on Youtube to make the cops look like liars.
In the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a story emerged from Chief Thomas Jackson, which has served as the foundation for all discussion, in contrast to the first-hand statements of others who witnessed events. Within the debate between competing narratives, one aspect has become both highly controversial and summarily rejected by those supporting Darren Wilson and the police.
Is the press briefing by the police the equivalent in terms of reliability as the first hand statements of witnesses? Or to put it another way, is there a debate to be had as to which narrative, in the absence of anything else, should prevail?
In the story offered the media by St. Louis Chief Dotson, the details were fairly straightforward. He didn’t rely too much on the vagaries of policespeak, jargon, wiggle words or qualified assertions. Indeed, he was kind enough to physically demonstrate how Kajieme Powell raised his arm, raised the knife, in an “overhand grip,” to show how he presented an imminent threat to the life of the officer. It didn’t happen, as the video shows, but it made for a solid justification.
When Chief Jackson gave his press briefing, it was replete with qualifications, wiggling and jiggling all the way through. He emphasizes how Brown, allegedly, “physically assaulted the police officer.” For the unaware, this is a conclusory statement, a phrase devoid of meaning in the absence of a description of what specific conduct occurred.
It is our understanding, at this point in the investigation, that within the police car, there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon.
A struggle? Does that mean that he is claiming the Michael Brown grabbed hold of Police Officer Darren Wilson’s gun and attempted to pull it away from the officer? Does that mean that Brown moved his hand to deflect the gun from aiming as his head? Does that mean anything? Well, it means that if the story tendered by Chief Jackson went unchallenged, the officer was faced with a threat. But then, it was challenged. Even so, Jackson’s story gave rise to assumptions about its meaning, but provided no specific facts.
Despite this, many, including some very knowledgeable people who should know much better, have embraced the police narrative, reading into the vagaries, the qualifications, the wiggle words, what they needed to “believe” the story to be real and damning of Michael Brown.
But as is clear from Chief Dotson’s narrative in the killing of Kajieme Powell, a story is just a story until there is evidence to support it. Sometimes, as here, the story is false. It’s just a story, even if told by the police chief. What it is not is the equivalent of witness accounts.
At Techdirt, Mike Masnick notes the fallacy of the “he said/she said” theory of journalism. It’s “easy and lazy” to offer the stories of both sides as if each was of equal weight. The media explains this as “balance,” but it’s the opposite: there is no balance to present the public with eyewitness reports, on the one side, and an unsourced fairy tale, replete with vagaries and assumptions, on the other, as if they were equally worthy of belief.
The same smart people who embraced the police narrative, with blind faith, in the Michael Brown killing responded to challenge by pointedly asking, “are you saying the cops lied?” The smart folks know, or at least should know, that this is a fool’s question. The issue isn’t whether the cops lied, in its broadest sense rather than the intentional act of offering false information to deceive, but whether a fairy tale, true or false, is comparable to the statements of identified witnesses who subject themselves to question and scrutiny.
Whether or not Chief Dotson “lied” about the killing of Kajieme Powell is unclear. What is certain is that his story was completely wrong. That’s why the story of Michael Brown offered by Chief Jackson is unworthy of acceptance. Without more, it’s just the police fairy tale, even if reported by the media as if we should believe it.