The dangers of high speed pursuit are very well known. And yet, they happen with surprising frequency. After all, when an officer turns on his turret lights, you pull over. If you don’t, if instead you hit the gas and try to flee, it’s a smack in the face. So what if the reason for the initial stop was a broken tail light, as innocuous a violation as there can be. Contempt of cop will not go unpunished.
Two incidents recently (and there are many more, but that’s not the point) have given rise to some thought about how a car chase ends in death in a barrage of bullets. Is there something about a car chase?
In the Cleveland killing of Timothy Russell, 42, and Malissa Williams, 30, the chase started when a car backfired, which an officer mistook for a gun shot. It ended with 137 shots fired, enough of which entered their bodies to end their lives. There was no weapon in their car, no shots fired by them. The outcome for Russell and Williams was clear. For the police?
In Cleveland, cops who fired 137 bullets at the car of an unarmed black couple… The couple were riddled with bullets following a car chase which began when the sound of a car backfire was mistaken for a gunshot by police. Khalek noted:
Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said Tuesday that a series of disciplinary hearings surrounding the chase found 64 officers guilty of “administrative charges ranging from excessive speed to insubordination.”
However, “No one will be fired, and the longest suspension will be 10 days,” reports 19 Action News, adding that several officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The cops disciplined this week were not the cops who unloaded their guns, but were all in some way involved in the incident. A review of the shooting officers is still to come.
Discipline was imposed for violating rules of pursuit, failing to stop when ordered to do so. Whenever there are so many shots fired, people demand to know why. It always strikes me as more important that any shots were fired.
Then there is the killing of unarmed 34-year-old mother, Miriam Carey by District of Columbia police.
But the only shooters in last Thursday’s incident, despite the reaction by Capitol police and members of Congress, were Capitol police officers themselves. Miriam Carey, the woman they shot, was unarmed. Police say she tried to ram a barricade (an “outer perimeter” fence, or checkpoint) in front of the White House before speeding off, leading police on a chase through Washington, D.C.
Seventeen bullets later, Carey was dead. Fortunately, her one-year-old daughter in the car was not.
This isn’t to justify the conduct of flight from police, speeding away in a car rather than be stopped. For Carey, it appears that mental illness was at play. For Russell and Williams, it’s not clear. But regardless, they ended up dying in a barrage of bullets.
There must be a connection here that eludes me, because no cop is deemed in the wrong for having killed people who posed no imminent threat of harm. And spare me the comments about how all cops are evil and murderous. It’s just not helpful.
So why must these chases end in death?
That it’s wrong, needless and, well, murder, to an outsider’s mind is one thing, but what I struggle trying to understand is why police make the connection between a car chase and the need to kill. Is there no other outcome? Is this fury at the hubris of the driver for noncompliance? What is it?
Usually, this would be the point where I would insert my thoughts as to why these tragedies happen, the common thread between them and possible causes, but this time I’m stymied. So the cops can’t stop a car with their bare hands? So what? Eventually, the car will come to a stop and that’s that.
Is it timing? Are they in too much of a rush that they can’t wait for the car to come to a stop? It could be fear that the driver will get away, but cars have these great things called tags on them that identify who the owner is and where the car gets parked. No, it’s not perfect, but is its imperfection worth a life?
Within these issues is the perpetual question of why police are granted greater latitude from ignorance than from knowledge. They don’t know if the people in the car are harmed or bent on causing harm, so they get to kill without first finding out?
Then the first rule of policing kicks in: A cop isn’t required to let the criminal take the first shot before protecting himself. But does it not begin with a level of certainty that the person they are about to kill is, indeed, about to shoot, or is a vivid imagination sufficient to kill first?
What I would hope to learn is a cop’s view on how this all plays out. Why must a car chase end in a barrage of bullets? I don’t get it.