But For Video: Black Man With Gun In Wal-Mart Edition (Update)

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.

15 thoughts on “But For Video: Black Man With Gun In Wal-Mart Edition (Update)

  1. RKTlaw

    From watching interviews, it appears that the 911 caller (don’t know if there was more than one) lied, or significantly misrepresented, what was going on as well. Bracing for when it is announced that there won’t be indictments in Ferguson

    1. SHG Post author

      The end of the article says:

      Police said they responded when a customer called 911, saying a man was waving a gun inside the store. The customer has since retracted the account, according to media reports on the case.

      What this means is hard to say. Does the caller retract the info he provided in the 911 call, or does the caller say he didn’t say what the police claim he said? Either way, it’s irrelevant. Cops are supposed to exercise a tiny degree of independent judgment rather than kill people because of what is said in a 911 call.

  2. Jerryskids

    Knowing that grand juries are sometimes little more than rubber stamped approval for whatever it is the prosecutor wants done, I certainly would like to know what the prosecutor himself thinks about what the grand jury decided. Does he agree with their decision given the testimony from the witnesses – and just who were all these witnesses and how much influence did the prosecutor have in shaping that testimony?

    Specifically , I have read that prior to the grand jury being assembled the guy who called 911 with a report that a man was walking around “pointing a gun at people” was allowed to see the video which seemed to contradict his statement in order to perhaps “clarify” his memory of what he actually saw. Was he questioned as to why he told 911 that the man was pointing a gun at people rather than simply walking around with the gun? Would it have made a difference to the police response and their liability for that response if the man who called 911 had not (mistakenly or otherwise) exaggerated the threat?

    1. SHG Post author

      Did you read the article? Did you read the post? The prosecutor is quoted, and while most of us lack the capacity to know what anyone else “thinks,” we can read what he says. That’s the best answer we can get as to what he thinks.

      As for the 911 caller, your questions are a bit simplistic. Regardless of what was said in the 911 call, the officers at the scene have the capability and obligation to conduct their own investigation/observation before taking a life. Ask the Wal-Mart employees whether the guy was pointing a gun at people. Verify first. Shoot later.

  3. GirlfriendMD

    This is a nice timeline, thanks for the summary. The video is hard to watch as much as anything because you see a man losing his life.
    I may have missed reference to it, but it appears that the story didn’t mention one other very important fact: Ohio is an open carry state.
    Even if this were a real gun, he had the right to be carrying it in the open.

    1. SHG Post author

      What happened here is the perpetual conundrum with open carry laws. You have a right to do it. They can kill you for doing it. Individual rights are in direct conflict with the extant formulation and treatment of a cop’s authority to defend himself. It’s a problem.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        > You have a right to do it. They can kill you for doing it.

        Great. Now I’m having a hard time distinguishing the effects of open carry laws from the effects of lying in my own bed with a revolver handy in case I need to deal with armed intruders at 3:00 AM.

      2. Rebecca

        [Ed. Note: Paragraph deleted per the Trayvon Rule.]

        Hypothetically, two men with concealed carry licenses come across each other in public. Each notices that the other has a gun concealed on their person. Both notice the other acting suspiciously (tensing up, eying other people). Both are reasonably in fear of their lives. Both make a preemptive strike. Are they both justified? Neither? The one who lives? Last man standing?

  4. Jake DiMare

    Very sad. I was waiting for your thoughts on this, thanks for sharing. I am not holding my breath on the NRA taking notice of/a public position on the conundrum you’ve illustrated, in this case.

    1. bookmoth

      The NRA doesn’t make public statements on individual shootings, especially when the situation is still being investigated and litigated.

      The NRA has come out strongly in favor of the right of citizens to carry firearms openly when open carry is legal, and they have criticized police for harassing citizens who are legally carrying firearms.

      If you are questioning the NRA’s support of black men carrying firearms, keep in mind that the NRA was founded in part to help freedmen have the knowledge and tools for self-defense. Keep in mind also the case McDonald v. Chicago, in which the Supreme Court determined that the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is an individual right that applies to the states. The NRA provided financial and legal support in the case. Otis McDonald is a black man.

  5. bill

    I guess everyone but the cops involved and Ronal have heard of swatting and understand why it’s such a terrible thing to do to someone. If there’s ever a guy who deserves an internet Name and Shame campaign, it’s Ronal Ritchie.

  6. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, I’m asking no one in particular but still asking the same old shit, what can be done in 2014, regarding the people that call 911 and/ or go on official record in Police Incident Reports, (something about perjury goes here) providing information that turns out to be not only false but goddamn blatant lies resulting in: false arrest, wrongful indictments, invalid convictions, maiming & death ? Simply allowing one to retract, play dumb or refuse to admit they were wrong won’t cut it for rogue ADAs, nor should it for the rogue Complainant(s) / Witnesses. As for GJs, we all should know by now that they are allowed to be ‘Rigged’ from the moment they are allowed to be Cherry-Picked.

    Walmart (all stores) should remove all fake & real weapons / toys / scissors, sharpened utensils, baseball bats, hammers, crowbars, brooms, mops, bricks, rocks, landscape timbers, Razors, etc… from their shelves and replace them with photos. In order to purchase or hold a boxed item, one must push a button so an associate with a blinking amber lighted hat can unlock a secured container. If the customer wishes to purchase it, then the associate should carry the item to the cash register at the Return counter and walk the customer to his / her vehicle just in case the alarm bells go off as they exit. Any cop or dogcatcher that shoots first is a jicky trigger happy killer and should be listed and registered as one. Thanks.

    RIP, Mr. John Crawford III

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