Monday, October 13, 2008

Trigger happy policemen

Posted By on Mon, Oct 13, 2008 at 2:22 PM

Marvin Gaye sang about police brutality in his hit song, "What's Going On."

It seems that we're living it in the Charlotte area. In Salisbury this weekend, police shot and killed a robbery suspect. There are conflicting reports about if the dead man fired at police before the cops returned fire:

Police say the suspect pulled a gun and started firing. Officers returned fire. The suspect died at the scene.

The suspect's mother told WCNC: witnesses told her they saw her son fall, which caused his gun to discharge accidentally, before officers shot him.

WCNC also reports that the Salisbury Police chief, Mark Wilhelm, said:

“I’m glad I'm standing here not talking about an officer being injured or killed,” said Wilhelm, “but it does not give me any pleasure to talk about anyone else being killed as well.”

A bit insensitive, don't you think? Criminals should be arrested and tried, not shot in the streets. With these conflicting reports, how can law abiding citizens trust that police will protect and serve them? Who doesn't get a flash of nervousness when they see a blue and white cop car behind them on the road? Why do you think traffic slows to a crawl when an officer behind someone? Sure, no one wants a speeding ticket, but for many drivers, they're praying that they won't get shot.

Officers put their lives on the line every day--but they knew what the job was when they accepted it. If this man in Rowan County fired at the officers, then yes, they should have returned fire. But shoot to kill? Aren't police trained to take down a suspect without using deadly force? And if the dead man's mother can admit that her son was no angel, shouldn't Chief Wilhelm be more tactful?

I'm sure the Police Benevolent Fund's telemarketers have called this woman's house looking for a donation before--bet they won't ever get one now because of the chief's remarks. And is there a fund for victims of police shootings?

In Charlotte, there have been two fatal police shootings this year:

• March 22: Police responded to a call for service at the Food Lion at 3024 Prosperity Church Road regarding a disturbance. Police reports say when Officer Jerry Dawson arrived, he witnessed Darryl Wayne Turner assaulting the store manager by throwing an object at him. "Mr. Turner appeared to be in a highly agitated state. He refused all verbal commands and advanced towards the officer. The officer, Jerry Dawson Jr., deployed his Taser to get Mr. Turner under control," the report states. Turner was pronounced dead at Carolina's Medical Center-University and an autopsy later revealed that Turner died from a heart attack. Dawson was not charged by the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's office in Turner's death.

(Update: Police also released an update into the investigation of officer Dawson: “After a thorough review of the evidence, the Board determined that the initial decision to discharge the TASER was within our procedures, but the prolonged use of the TASER was not. Officer Dawson has been suspended for five days and he will receive additional training concerning the use of the TASER. The Department is currently reviewing its policies and procedures concerning the TASER,” the statement reads. )

• May 20: In an incident that brought national attention to the city, Aaron Winchester was shot and killed by officer David Jester following a foot chase. Jester was responding to a domestic call and saw Winchester, 21, walking down Sylvania Avenue. As Winchester ran from the officer, he reached into his pants pocket and removed a gun, police said. Jester fired four shots at Winchester, whom police said pointed the gun at the officer. Two shots hit Winchester in the back. Since the shooting, reports have surfaced of conflicting witness statements. Local media outlets have reported that some people on the scene claimed Winchester never pointed a gun at the officer.

In many cases where police officers shoot suspects, armed or unarmed, they don't face charges.

Take the case of a naked man who was killed in Guilford County by a sheriff's deputy in 2001.

Gilbert Barber was shot and killed after a struggle with Deputy Thomas Gordy. At the time, Barber was naked and unarmed, but was shot three times.

The deputy ended up suing Barber's family. Full Story

And in 2006, a federal judge dismissed the family's lawsuit against the sheriff's department and the deputy.

Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask the famous question that Marvin sang, "What's Going On?"

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