D.C. Tragedy: a probability of fear

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A great man once said: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a worried nation after a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. What he was talking about was the panic that grips civilized people unaccustomed to sudden violent acts, or terror. He, and many of our nation’s leaders wanted to head off any mass hysteria that may leave thousands running to banks, grocery stores, and firing upon its own citizens in response to a perceived threat. He also wanted to assure the country that its government was taking the appropriate action.

This week in our nations capital, at the very gates of the white house where FDR delivered his speech to an anxious America, a young woman suffering from emotional trauma, and health problems, both mental and physical, was shot and killed by police in response to one of many probable scenarios, when she apparently, deliberately crashed her car into the front door of our president’s home. The police justify the killing by saying they thought she had a car bomb, implying that they wanted to protect the president, persons and property in the nearby national landmark. The fact that when they fired and killed the perpetrator, a black woman who was already out of the car apparently unarmed and running away is most bothersome. At the point in time she was fired upon she had posed no immediate threat to the public or officer safety. The law is quite clear. Police are only allowed to take a life, if their own life, or that of others is reasonably threatened.

Further, our constitutional restraints on governmental intrusion, and infringement on fundamental, protected rights of its citizens is paramount. The amount of force to subdue a felon or person in the commission of a crime must be the least restrictive when balanced against the life and liberty rights at stake. Here, police using their subjective good faith belief that the automobile may be laced with explosives does not negate the injustice to the woman, her child, or the citizens of this country simply because there was an unsubstantiated fear that the car may explode, a fear inherently based upon an incident that occurred on September 11, 2001. America had been forewarned by an great man that this may happen. After reading the comments siding with the police without regard to any violations of this countries laws set in place to protect its citizens from arbitrary and capricious police action I am concerned. Right minded people appear to overlook violations of law when someone in uniform has acted with some deference to any number of probable scenarios. Police are justifying the killing as reasonable because they believed the woman was a terrorist and had a car loaded with explosives. Notwithstanding the unreasonableness of how shooting an unarmed perpetrator after she was out of the car would have prevented the car from going boom, there are serious questions to be answered by those agencies responsible for the homicide, particularly the D.C. Police department, and U.S. Marshall’s Office.

Police cannot even make an arrest unless they rely upon articulable facts to support the probability that a crime is being committed, and that the person being detained is committing a crime. Much more than a mere subjective belief that someone who crashed into the gate of the white house was in fact a terrorist driving a car full of explosives (instead of a car full of kids) should be required before shooting to kill a perpetrator, particularly where less permanent and obtrusive means were available. A policeman unwilling to tackle a woman running without an obvious weapon in her possession should not be a police officer. A generalized fear of personal safety should not outweigh the duty to protect the public, and preserve life, even in apprehending a fleeing felon.

In this case it could be arguable the woman was not quite a felon at the time she crashed into the gate until officials knew that there was any criminal intent, other than speculative–and not some malfunction with the automobile or other problem with the individual mindset of a post-partum woman using bad judgment to get attention. Shoot to kill should always be a last resort in law enforcement’s initial response. It should not have to end up a scenario like this one, on how to explain the use of extreme force after a shooting. I can only imagine what the officer’s mindset was at the time he dealt the fatal blow to this young mother, but it’s not hard to think how he must feel after he realized there was no immediate threat to himself or others, and although his agency will attempt to convince him or her that he acted reasonably with ‘arguable probable cause’ based upon a parade of horrible scenarios in order to avoid agency liability, he will never forget his mistake–in taking a human life unnecessarily. This country needs to retrain its police forces, or anyone wearing a hoodie or driving a car recklessly will be fair game. God bless America.

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