Follow by Email

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Truth About John Geer's Death -- Out at Last

Today's Washington Post finally has what I think might be the definitive report on the death of John Geer, the unarmed white guy from Springfield, Virginia who was shot by police while standing in the doorway of his home, and who then (quite understandably) closed the door, and died alone, next to the door, some time in the next 70 minutes -- the time it took for the police to get into the house.

Here's how the article starts:
John B. Geer stood with his hands on top of the storm door of his Springfield townhouse and calmly said to four Fairfax County police officers with guns pointed right at him: “I don’t want anybody to get shot . . . And I don’t wanna get shot, ’cause I don’t want to die today.”
And then he got shot.

The police officer who shot him thought he saw something that the other officers there didn't see -- that Geer was lowering his hands, possibly with the intent of going for a weapon.  There is speculation that the officer's perception of the situation was clouded by the fact that he arrived at the scene shortly after having had a telephone argument with his wife.

During the 44-minute standoff, Geer had indicated that he had weapons, and had threatened to use them, possibly on himself.  But at the time he was shot, the principal police negotiator thought he had established rapport with Geer, and that the situation would soon be under control.  It had started after Geer's long-time girlfriend and mother of his two children had called 911, after an argument with Geer in which Geer had begun to throw her possessions onto the lawn.

Anyway, I'm only writing this because I think it helps put some of the recent death-by-police killings into context.  Police are trained to use deadly force, and are authorized to do so in certain circumstances.  But police are human.  And being human, they all have emotions that can cloud their judgment in any given situation.  In some cases, their judgment can be further clouded by racism, no question about it.  There are many police officers who clearly should not be police.  But the bottom line is that any of them can make a deadly mistake.

Here's another way to think about it.  Have you ever been really angry about something?  Felt like punching a wall or something?  Or maybe your boss?  Now imagine you're having those feelings, but your job includes carrying a gun and a billy club or a taser.  What might happen if the next person you encounter on the job says something that rubs you the wrong way?  Given your emotional state, you might just go off on that person in a way that has a lot more to do with whatever you were already mad about than what that person said to you.

So my advice to anyone who has an encounter with the police is to treat the officer with respect.  You do not know where that officer has been, what his or her state of mind is, or what kind of person he or she is.  All you know is that he or she is capable of using deadly force against you.  Think about an encounter with police as analogous to an encounter with a strange dog.  No sudden movements, and make it really clear that you are not a threat.  Otherwise, there's no telling what might happen.

And yes, if you're a minority, this is all the more important.  That should not be the way it is, but for now, I'm sorry to report, that's the way it is.

Update 02/12/15:  Here's another case in point -- a non-English speaking grandfather visiting from India is maimed by police in Alabama, apparently as a result of the "language barrier":
"Officers attempted to pat the subject down and he attempted to pull away," the statement reads.
That's when officers forced Patel to the ground, leaving him with an injured neck and no feeling in his arms, the family says.
So another lesson -- if the police want to pat you down, for god's sake don't do anything that might remotely be construed as trying to pull away.  That's just asking for it, even if you're a grandfather.

No comments:

Post a Comment