Being sick really sucks. As I laid in bed, I was pretty much limited to watching TV or reading on my tablet. While reading the news, I came across the video footage of the shooting of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis that was released by the police as an act of transparency to show they acted within reason. After watching that video, I immediately wished that I had not watched it, yet I was intent on analyzing it to see what went wrong.
The video starts off with a guy laughing about what Powell had done which was stealing two sodas from a corner store. I’m not sure how fast news travels in St. Louis, but I was interested in that someone had heard what went on and walked to the location before the police had arrived. If this was an armed robbery, what took the police so long to arrive?
After absorbing what I had witnessed, the one question kept coming up in my mind. Did Kajieme Powell have to die?
My initial reaction was that this was a case of “suicide by cop”, especially when taking into account that he reportedly had some mental issues. My reasoning for that was considering that Powell had shoplifted drinks from a store and sat outside the store and made no attempt to flee the scene. It was as though he was waiting for the police to initiate a confrontation. Until the police arrive, he paces back and forth bothering no one. The guy recording the video walks by him as does a few other people, and he doesn’t appear to be threatened by them at all. He tells them to get the f**k away from him because he’s tired of this sh*t. At no time does he brandish a weapon in their direction or make any physical threat to their safety.
Next, as soon as the police arrived, he walks towards them yelling “shoot me” a few times at the officers. I noticed that he turned and looked over his right shoulder while walking towards the officers and yelling. Whether this was deliberate or not, I’ll never know. However, after looking behind him, he changes directions, walking to the left as though he realized that people were standing directly behind him and right in the line of fire at that time. Although he’s yelling, he never makes any sudden moves or breaks out running. He walks the entire time, even when the officers start to fire on him.
I know the officers have to make split second decisions, and I would not want to trade places with those two officers in that situation, no matter what. Whether their actions were justified or not, they have to go home with the knowledge that they took someone’s life. That’s one hell of a weight to carry on your conscience.
Could it have been avoided though, is what I was thinking? The flood of “what if’s” began streaming through my conscience. What if the officers had waited the minute or so before their backup arrived? What if the officers had not pulled up right on the sidewalk, less than 20 feet (my guess) away from him? Would the officers being farther away gave them more time to assess the situation to determine if less than lethal force could have been used instead? Doing additional reading online, I realized that I wasn’t the only one with these questions. Ezra Klein at Vox and Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic appeared to mirror my thoughts as well.
It’s easy to Monday Morning Quarterback this as I’m thinking with no adrenaline or stress to affect my decision-making. I don’t have the fear of someone suddenly coming at me with a weapon, nor do I have to worry about staring down the barrel of a gun. I don’t have to wake up in the morning with my conscience weighed down with the knowledge that I’ve taken someone’s life. Most important of all, I will wake up in the morning.
There has been numerous cases of hostage situations where people are talked down without any violence taking place. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of mentally unstable people being talked down without any harm coming to them. What made this case different from those? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer for this situation. There are some who are upset at the actions of the officers, and there are those who see the actions as justified. There will still be others, such as me, that could see things on both sides that may have kept this from happening. Hopefully, any and all discussion of this incident can better help us all, both police and civilian, and keep us all much safer and more at ease around each other.