Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lethal Force – Always the First Resort

... or:
Shoot first, ask questions later.

[UPDATE Below]

What's it take to get shot by North Coast police officers? What do we learn, if anything, from the latest reported police killing of Robert Garth on Saturday, August 7, 2010, by Humboldt County Sheriff's deputies?

First, by the time the deputies arrived at the scene of the incident, he apparently, as it was reported to the deputies, had a broken rake or garden tool handle in his hand that he'd been using to assault another man. Apparently, that man had time during the ongoing assault to call 911 and tell them about being assaulted with a rake. The report is he was treated at the hospital for head and chest wounds. The garden tool handle caused physical damage, but apparently not life threatening, since he declined medical assistance at the scene. Apparently, the assault with the "garden tool" didn't hurt him enough that when the deputies arrived that he couldn't “run away” as he is reported to have done. Was the rake handle a “deadly weapon”? Usually, such metal garden tools are made of flimsy material, as testified to by it breaking. Did it even matter? As soon as he turned on the deputies, the guns came out.

Who in their right mind, holding a flimsy piece of metal, advances on two police officers with drawn guns pointed directly at your heart? It is also reported that he was barefoot. Next, he was shot multiple times apparently by BOTH officers because he “kept advancing.” Apparently, Robert Garth was in “close” enough “proximity” so as to touch one of the officers. Are you telling me that they couldn't determine what Garth had in his hands and that two highly trained able-bodied Sheriff's deputies could not easily “stop the threat” or disarm this guy if they wanted? How much harm was he going to do after being shot a couple times? Where's the mortal threat here?

The Times-Standard's Thadeus Greenson reports that “Garth was arrested a number of times over the past handful of years, including arrests that resulted in convictions for possession of a deadly weapon and obstructing a peace officer in 2007 and for battery in 2005.” Robert Garth had a history with the local police. The question is, did these deputies know this guy?

Finally, notice “who” caused the deputies to fire their weapons: “Knight (Sheriff's Lt. Steve Knight) said the deputies repeatedly instructed Garth to drop his weapon but he did not comply and kept advancing, causing the deputies to fire on him as they retreated backward.” This is probably the most telling statement in the Police Press Release account of the incident. These deputies showed absolutely no capacity or intention to disarm Garth without using lethal force. As demonstrated, if he did not immediately do what he was told, he was dead. As far the the officer's were concerned their responsibility to this person ended right there. You either instantly submit or you die – simple as that. This man was obviously not rational and clearly posed a threat to others as well as to HIMSELF. Whatever happened to the police priority to protect and defend those that are not only a threat to others, but to themselves? [Emphasis added]

What, then, poses a “threat” to a police officer? This is important because the general public needs to know how to interact with these officers in order to protect their safety and lives. The fact that these deputies, as Knight says, “We're trained to stop the threat [...].” Begs the question, what does he say defines that “threat” in the context of their, police officer training and general attitude toward the general public? He says, “[T]hese officers were in fear for their safety, and in fear for their lives.” [Emphasis added]

Accept what he says, just for a second, that this is a valid reality. What in the hell does that say about the legitimacy and mental state of mind of the police officer's ability and capacity to safely enforce the law in this community? What triggers a “threat” to “personal safety”? They decide what or that there even is a “threat” according to their perceived “fears.” What actually puts these officers into “fear” for personal safety or life? Notice “lethal force” is activated for simple issues of “personal safety.” What are this “issues”? Non-compliance with officer “instructions,” that's all.

We've all experienced "fear" at one time or another in our lives. Fear caused by a genuine "threat" to one's "life," however is an extreme experience one usually never forgets. That is a different experience than "fear" caused by a "threat" to one's "safety." Here's the definition to fear:
1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
2. a specific instance of or propensity for such a feeling: an abnormal fear of heights.
3. concern or anxiety; solicitude: a fear for someone's safety.
What do we learn in this latest incident?

What I learned is that we have police officers operating on a hair-trigger in our community and that we live here at our own risk or peril. They justify the “shoot-first, ask questions later” based upon the “value” of their own perceptions of personal safety and NOT that of the general public they are supposed to serve and protect. That means, that anytime you do not instantly do what a police officer tells you to do, regardless of what that might be, you run the risk of lethal force – dying.

Does that remind anyone of the time your father told you to do something and when you didn't instantly move you got smacked upside your head or worse? It didn't take many “smacks” to learn that you NEVER threaten you father's authority; you never made your parent's look bad. Is that the kind of authoritarian society we live in today? Or, for that matter, want to live in?

More importantly, since we need the police, this kind of policing has negative consequences for them as well. While they may all answer to their respective governments, they need the community's backing and our personal support for legitimate operation and authority. Why they can't see that, I don't know. When this relationship is reduced to “it's either us or them,” we're in serious trouble. The picture in the newspaper says it all.

[UPDATE Thursday, August 12, 2010]

Initially, I had decided to let this shooting incident pass until I read in the paper how long it was before the police removed the body. That seemed rather unreasonable and disrespectful to the family. It also demonstrated "attitude," attitude that's consistently demonstrated in the above picture. What stands out is the effort of the policing authorities to make sure they did everything they could to protect and justify the shooting. It's going to be interesting to see if the forensic evidence is consistent with the officer's stated accounts.

Here are a couple of links with more information:

  1. The Reporta:  Story:  Aftermath of the Blue Lake Shooting
  2. Redwood Curtain Cop Watch:  Story  Sheriff's Officers Opened Fire On Robert Garth: "The cops didn't even give him a chance," says witness neighbor.
Let's see if there is any followup from the Times-Standard. Or are they going to continue to publish the unquestioned press releases as fact.

Meaning of "first resort": "To have recourse."
"Shoot first, ask questions later" - Unintended consequences.
Versus: "Last Resort."
Times-Standard Articles: 1) Saturday, August 7, 2010: Deputies shoot, kill suspect near Blue Lake
2) Sunday, August 8, 2010: Deputies shoot man on SR 299
3) Tuesday, August 10, 2010: Blue Lake man shot on 299 identified

[Image: Great photo from the Times-Standard]

No comments:

Post a Comment