John Crawford III was shopping at Wal-Mart, which may reflect a questionable choice of venues but is not illegal in these United States. And still, he ended up dead. While walking through the store, he picked up an unboxed pellet gun and continued down the aisles, chatting on a cellphone all the while.
Another shopper, seeing Crawford carrying what looked like “an automatic rifle” while black, called 911. The police appeared with both alacrity and passion, having just been trained to be “aggressive” to stop shooters. Who doesn’t want to try out their new lessons?
According to the officers, they commanded Crawford to drop the weapon a few times. He didn’t, so they killed him. But there’s a video tape, because Wal-Mart.
While it’s not the easiest to follow (the shooting is at 8;26;55;01), one thing is clear: John Crawford doesn’t turn, doesn’t appear to show any recognition that there are cops to his left with guns pointed at him. One would assume that if police officers were yelling at a person to “drop the gun,” there would be some indication, body movement, head turn, something, to demonstrate recognition that this was happening.
The video shows no reaction. Crawford just drops to the ground as bullets enter his body. And yet:
A special grand jury has cleared police officers in the fatal shooting of a 22-year-old Fairfield man at a Beavercreek Wal-Mart, prosecutors said Wednesday.
[Special prosecutor Mark] Piepmeier said grand jurors were asked to consider charges or murder, reckless homicide or negligent homicide.
He called the shooting a “perfect storm of circumstances.” If one of them had failed to occur, Crawford would be alive, he said.
Always be suspect when someone tries to throw in a cute, yet meaningless, phrase like “perfect storm.” Would that be black man + gun = kill the sucker? That the gun looked like an “automatic” is nonsense, as if the police would have acted differently if it was only a single shot rifle.
That they had recently been trained to be “aggressive” is nonsense, as if they were more inclined to violate the First Rule of Policing in the absence of being taught to kill first and ask questions later. Or maybe they weren’t sure what the business end of their own weapons were? Spare me.
“That was really the question for this jury,” Piepmeier said at a press conference in Xenia. “Was the officer reasonable to think himself or someone else would receive physical harm?”
“The law says police officers are judged by what is in their mind at the time,” he said. “You have to put yourself in their shoes at that time with the information they had.”
Think of how this plays out with the Second Amendment, since any
black man person with a gun is a likely threat because guns shoot bullets. All of them. Who or what they shoot them at is another matter. And that’s what distinguishes whether there is any basis to believe that a person is a threat.
Here, Crawford had been walking around Wal-Mart with the gun being sold at Wal-Mart for a while without shooting anyone. That, apparently, didn’t factor into the officers’ minds when deciding just how quickly they needed to mow Crawford down.
“The Civil Rights Division, the United States Attorney’s Office, and the FBI will conduct a thorough and independent review of the evidence and take appropriate action if the evidence indicates a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes,” said Jennifer Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Much as I’m no fan of dual sovereignty-based secondary investigations, this is a case that screams for redress. The police claims of having commanded Crawford to drop the gun appear to be wholly unsupported by the video, but more importantly, the fact that they responded to a call because someone decided to take to heart the fortune cookie admonition, “if you see something, say something,” because there was a black man shopping at Wal-Mart was the framing of their mindset.
We can’t keep killing people because of this fear of black men. Even black men get to shop at Wal-Mart. Even black men get to hold guns that are being sold. Even when a black man holds a gun, it doesn’t make him a killer. And even when a black man has a gun, the cops don’t get to kill him just because. This must stop.
Update: Radley Balko has some additional background about the person who called 911, his post-call comments to police, and his subsequent retraction:
The video also doesn’t show Crawford pointing the gun at anyone. Witness Ronald Ritchie told a 911 dispatcher that Crawford was pointing the gun at children, a claim he repeated to the media. Earlier this month Ritchie changed his story, apparently after viewing the surveillance video above.
As noted below, regardless of what Ronal Ritchie said in the 911 call, it doesn’t absolve the officers from conducting their own investigation on-site. Just because a 911 caller says so doesn’t suffice to simply shoot first. Callers often exaggerate, try to play hero or just don’t understand things well enough to be reliable.
The call may serve as the impetus for police action and frame their mindset, but it alone does not serve as a substitute for independent determination by the police or justification for killing.