The next-to-the-last thing I would ever want to do is find it necessary to subject another Human being to lethal force.
However, the very last thing I would ever want is for myself (or a loved one or even an acquaintance or some innocent bystander) to be killed or injured if I can do something to stop it.
Two assailants have recently been shot to death by Anchorage, Alaska Police. It should be noted that the man armed with the “long stick” was a big, young guy---and the other was waving a BB gun that looked exactly like a real pistol. Some Anchorage citizens are upset. Others are not. A protest rally was held:
According to the Anchorage Daily News, July 8, 2012:
The rally followed two fatal shootings by Anchorage officers in less than a month: Shane Tasi, a 26-year-old carrying a long stick June 9, and Harry Smith, a 59-year-old brandishing a BB gun July 1. Tasi's shooting was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by state prosecutors; Smith's is under investigation.
Leaders in the local Polynesian community met with police and city officials on Friday, urging them to change what they call a "shoot to kill" policy in those situations when an officer is in danger. And while Police Chief Mark Mew and Mayor Dan Sullivan indicated after the meeting, through a spokeswoman, that they were open to better community outreach and increased funding for nonlethal weapons, they say training on the use of firearms in those situations will not change.
When I was a kid, the “cowboy” comics and movie heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry would “shoot the guns out of their hands” and the “bad guys” would look at their hands, more amazed than hurt. That was not only crap but would have resulted in some extensive hand surgery in real life. Police officers cannot afford to “shoot to disable.” For one thing that would take a precision shot---often impossible in rapidly developing situations. And what happens when they miss? They could be overpowered or killed. That’s why police are taught to aim for “dead center”---that way there is at least a chance of stopping an assailant.
Online comments to this story are extensive and feature a wide variety of responses. Some consider it an outrage that a stick-wielding and apparently rather large young man was shot to death when charging a Police officer. Others figure that’s what you’ve got coming when you charge at a Police officer. Many of the remarks on both sides were just plain stupid.
I wonder how many of these commenters have actually been in a real fight for their lives. Or, at least, a perceived fight for their lives. Because that’s what this is about. In my opinion, anyone crazy enough to charge a police officer---even bearing no more of a weapon than a so-called “long stick”---must be taken seriously. I’d really like to know exactly what that “long stick” was---but the police officer was no doubt aware that “stick-fighting“ can be a deadly martial art! The officer just doesn’t know for sure and doesn‘t have time to contemplate! And that is why a prudent officer might well use lethal force against such an attacker.
I am reminded of the Zen story of two Samurai who had agreed to meet on an island in the middle of a large lake to fight to the death with swords. The first Samurai arrived extra early and waited right on the beach for the second to arrive---presumably tired out from the chore of rowing his boat to the island. The second Samurai stepped from the boat and killed the first with an oar.
Back to real life. Why not use pepper spray as some have advocated? Because crazy people don’t often react to getting a snootful of cayenne---they will just keep coming and be on you in a second. Same goes for Tasers! And that’s when things get really dangerous---struggling at close quarters with some large, obviously deranged individual. For a police officer to possibly have his/her weapon taken away and used against them is a real likelihood when things get up close and personal.
As to why the large 26 year-old man was shot three times? For the same reason that a charging grizzly is shot with the most powerful weapon available and as many times as possible. Because it could always take the shooter down just before succumbing to one or more, ultimately fatal bullets. And that’s also why Fish and Game and wildlife control officers often shoot a grizzly or black bear to death when it is in town and potentially dangerous rather than to tranquilize or Taser the animal---because these non-lethal methods often create an enraged entity capable of moving events along at a very brisk and speedy pace and endangering the “public.” I don’t like it either but public officials must put the public first.
I recall the street fighter’s admonition to “charge a gun and flee a knife.” The logic is incomplete in the sense you may be dealing with someone capable of accurately “throwing” a knife...or smacking you good with the barrel of the gun when you try to divert their aim.
The point is that all these tactics have their fatal flaws---and the “fatal” part could well involve you!
That’s what we are talking about here---the very real potential, likelihood or possibility of injury or even death to oneself---presumably an innocent party. Consider the speed. These events don’t just “unfold”---they explode! And the possibility of quickly succumbing to a swift and aggressive attack is always there.
In the second instance, a 59 year-old man was shot while brandishing a “BB gun”---one of those replicas that look exactly like “a real gun.”
Again, this is a matter of perception and instant judgment. Even though officers were told by family members that the pistol was a replica---these types of imitations look exactly like the real thing so how can an officer be certain it is not? The man was also apparently considering and contemplating beforehand that he would be killed by the police.
What bothers me about both these incidents/events---especially the second---is that they reek of “suicide by cop.” That is an outrage against police officers---to force an officer of the law to execute an attacking or threatening individual. It can be a form of coerced murder to force an officer into committing an act of destruction that the person does not have the guts to do himself.
America, as a Nation, is still debating whether or not we should have used nuclear weapons against Japan in the waning days of World War II. The problem at that time was that the war may have been “waning”---but the fighting was not. It was getting downright suicidal and fiercer than ever. I grieve that we used these horrible weapons---and today I can see reasons why they should not have been used. But I can see why they were used at the time.
Would it have been necessary to actually invade the Japanese homeland in order to end the war? At the time, as we should recall, Japanese soldiers were fighting to the death and launching suicide attacks with aircraft, ships and Humans. Citizens of the Japanese homeland were being armed with sharpened sticks (!) and trained to oppose invading troops. The moral question at the time was this: Just how many Allied lives could be saved by dropping the nuclear weapons instead of gutting it out on the ground? You can see the similarities to the Anchorage shootings in the words: “on the ground.” When people or armies start wrestling around at close quarters all sorts of stuff can happen. Somewhat similar deal here on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska---albeit on an infinitely smaller scale.
Charges of “racism” have been leveled. Sure, a rather large and charging Polynesian gentleman with a long stick can be fearsome-looking---but to imply that he was shot because he was of a different skin color is after-the-fact speculation.
What a horrible thing it is to manipulate another Human being into shooting someone to death---even if it is yourself. That’s why I find the online remarks to this Daily News article so appalling. These people are not being faced by an attacker---yet they respond with intemperate words as if their little right-wing or left-wing perceptions and sensibilities were in some immediate danger. The comments just go on and on with their pointless yammering. Many of these online vultures are shooting from the hip. Many clearly are not using or are ignoring the spell-check function---which indicates they are responding in “real time”---not taking the time to think about their comments and not composing in their own word-processing programs (a tactic I highly recommend for all online commenters and bloggers). For all us onliners, time is often the only editor we have---the only thing that stands between us and shooting off our mouths. We have time to control our comments---police officers being charged or threatened do not have the luxury of time.
- Rudy Wittshirk
Notes on "BB guns" and "non-lethal" force -
"BB guns" were a big deal when I was a kid. I was presented with one and had it taken away for abusing the privilege. I shot at everything---last straw was sticking the barrel into a light socket! When I got older we kids shot at each other with them.
Even a regular "BB gun" can put out an eye and penetrate flesh at close ranges. When old enough to know better I once accidentally lodged a "BB" in the chest of another kid. And those were the weak, spring-loaded propellent systems.
Air-pump and CO2 powered "pellet guns" can be potentially lethal---people have been killed by them. I have two acquaintances who took "shot" (a wad of pellets like bird-shot in a shotgun shell) in their eyes from pump-powered "air guns." Naturally, eager young guys will pump these things up to maximum pressures. One lost his eye and the other had his sight saved only because there was an experimental reconstructive medical facility nearby. If these had been solid pellets they may well have penetrated through the eye and into the brain.
It is a small point but it was not made clear what kind of "BB gun" the deceased gentleman was waving around in the second shooting---it could have been a "pellet gun." If so, I expect lawyers for the plaintiffs will keep calling it by the more innocuous term: "BB gun." Furthermore, since the "BB gun" was a "replica" it could well have been heavy enough to use as a club---before or after it was fired.
People have also died after being hit by pepper spray and Tasers. The trouble with even "nonlethal force" is that it can be lethal. Think of it this way: How can we---while not putting ourselves at risk---stop an enraged and/or mad person without the use of significant force? That is, "force" that could potentially become lethal.
LETHAL VS. NON-LETHAL -
My discussion of the “replica” Smith and Wesson pistol brandished by the unfortunate Mr. Harry Smith at a police officer was intended to show how much it looked like the real thing---virtually the same. Which make and model of a “real gun” it looked like is incidental. And yes, I did see the photo in the Anchorage Daily News of the two side by side. That tells the story right there.
My discussion of “BB guns” and “pellet guns” was intended to point out that the second can be considerably more lethal than the first. The police officer often has no way of knowing whether he/she is facing a little “BB” propelled at low velocities or a higher-powered, ballisticallly-shaped bullet (“pellet”) driven by compressed air or gas. And don’t forget, even a little “BB,” if it hits the right spot on the body, could inflict damage or even death to a Human. Hell, the weapon being waved in the face of the officer could well be “empty!” That’s often a tactic employed in “suicide by cop.”
In answer to Mr. Minshall’s question, which is at the heart of this discussion:
“…are there any alternatives to applying BULLETS to an adversary's center of mass that are equally effective in STOPPING said adversary while having a lower probability of inflicting lethal damage?”
Not quite! There are rubber bullets and bean bag projectiles---requiring either a long gun and/or special weapons or attachments---all cumbersome to carry. A cop, a trooper, a policeman or policewoman is already encumbered with belts, radios and other equipment in addition to the pistol in a holster, pepper spray in a holster etc.---all stuff for an assailant to grab and latch onto. Which is one reason why cops occasionally have their pistols snatched away. [I would bet that a certain number of “collared” wolves probably get killed because those collars are dandy for other wolves to grab onto and hold while the rest of the pack tears into the collared animal.] So, simply in order to move around, a police officer cannot carry every possible form of weaponry on his/her person to meet every possible situation. Thus, the relatively compact pistol is the weapon of choice.
Bean bags are close range weapons since they lose velocity quickly. I would rather be hit with a bean bag than a rubber bullet, which can more easily kill. But both these “non-lethal” weapons are more in the realm of “crowd control” or other situations that can be monitored and appropriate weapons deployed beforehand. But don’t forget, any good thump in the chest can kill! Though not as likely as a bullet.
What we are dealing with in the two instances under discussion are rapidly evolving “surprise” situations. The main problem for a police officer in these situations is that he/she must have a deadly weapon instantly ready to deploy at all times---just in case that is exactly what is needed! The non-lethal weaponry is often cumbersome to carry and clumsy to deploy.
In most of my bear (and moose) “incidents” I have usually had time to pull out the bear spray and the big pistol or shotgun---but sometimes I fumbled around and didn’t have time for either. I have decided---for simplicity’s sake---to concentrate on using the bear spray first. But I have the advantage of knowing that the bear (or moose) must get right up close (albeit able to do so very quickly!) to do me damage.
Chemical spray is also a fairly close range weapon. But a cop cannot always tell---until the last second---exactly what that threatening Human subject has in store for him or her. To put it bluntly, if I intended harm to a cop I would rather he/she be armed with beanbags or rubber bullets or spray---and I with a “real gun.”
I want to thank the commenters for a very civilized but frank discussion of this controversial subject. There are scientists and engineers working on better “non-lethal” weaponry, but at this time I am unaware of practical alternatives that an individual officer can carry.
FINAL THOUGHTS -
I don’t feel like untangling the most recent flurry of comments (as of midnight, July 15). I do have some more comments, observations and research-results of my own, however.
According to some internet reports, the “BB gun” brandished by Mr. Harry Smith was, indeed, a .177 caliber “pellet gun.” Here are excerpts from an advertisement for some of the projectiles available for this type of weapon:
“…latest state-of-the-art hunting pellet…a diamond-shaped polymer tip that provides a true ballistic trajectory…engineered for intense penetration…force of impact drives the red polymer tip back into the cylindrical jacket material, forcing it to expand outwards…increases the diameter of the projectile as it passes through the intended target, creating a mushrooming effect on impact…velocity: 843 feet per second, kinetic energy: 12.9 ft/lbs…paraffin penetration: 0.62 inches (muzzle), 0.46 inches (10 yards), 0.42 inches (30 yards)… 0.26 inches (10 yards), 0.24 inches (30 yards)…pellet weight: 7.8 grains…shaped hard polymer tip provides a true ballistic trajectory. The force of impact drives the diamond [shaped] polymer tip into the cylinder jacket material forcing it to expand outwards increasing the diameter of the projectile as it passes through the intended target (mushrooming effect on impact).”
I doubt a pistol could achieve such ballistic performance but this was definitely not a “BB gun.”
Another internet report cites a claim that the pistol being brandished was not working!
All this is academic now that the man who wielded this look-alike weapon was shot to death while doing so. The point is that these exact “replicas” pose a unique problem for law enforcement. Not only because they look like “real guns” but because they are nasty weapons in their own right.
The proliferation of far more dangerous weapons---”real guns” with projectiles driven by gunpowder---pose even worse problems for police officers. We live in a society that is saturated with weaponry but has not become “polite” as an “armed society” was supposed to be in the National Rifle Association propaganda.
STOPPING POWER -
I’ve been trying to figure out online what sidearms Anchorage police officers carry. [Maybe someone out there can tell us.] I’m guessing .40 caliber---a relative popgun compared to the “medium-powered” magnums I own. The reason police carry such modest armament is to keep stray bullets from harming bystanders. It is amazing how far even modestly-powered bullets can travel and how they can penetrate and pass through vehicles and dwellings. The relatively low power of police sidearms is relevant here because it may explain why three shots were fired at Mr. Tasi.
It's all about "stopping power"---sufficient applied force to "stop" an assailant in order to prevent that assailant from doing harm in the brief, final moments of an encounter. It is a fine distinction but this is not "shoot to kill!" Although the wounded assailant may well die---especially if medical care is not quickly forthcoming---the purpose is to prevent the assailant from shooting, hitting, grappling or otherwise harming the police officer or other intended victim. Because even a mortally-wounded subject can inflict grievous bodily harm in the few seconds left to live, sufficient force must be applied to "stop" such desperate, adrenalin-fueled attacks. A terrible quandary but a very real scenario.
The same thinking applies to bear attacks. A .22 caliber round can eventually kill a bear if it penetrates the right area---but by that time the bear can kill its victim and several others at that. For purposes of illustration, the principles are the same---the emotions, of course, are somewhat different.
I do believe that a basic understanding of weapons and ballistics is essential to an intelligent discussion of this subject, which is why I am dealing with it.
I am aware that not all shootings by peace officers are righteous. That was brought up in the comments but not discussed in the blog. I merely tried to show how difficult it is for well-intentioned police officers to make correct decisions when pressed by time and circumstances. And, not least, to survive.
THE "SUBJECT" -
Most police officers don't want to shoot anyone. I mean, who needs the paper work, the investigations and evaluations---especially when a minority person is involved. Not to mention that most people are decent and humane. Therefore, the "subject" controls the course of events.
If the subject charges at an officer and/or brandishes a real-looking weapon, the subject may well get shot. If the subject refuses to drop the weapon or aims a projectile weapon at the officer the subject will be shot. And, if the subject continues to charge the officer or continues to aim the weapon after being shot the subject will be shot until the subject is "stopped." Most likely the officer will be exonerated. But not without trauma. Read the comments of a "peace officer" ("Mootster") below.
I am well aware that racism is with us and will be for some time to come. That also was not discussed in the blog and deserves a full treatment (which I am not going to get into at this time).
The George Zimmerman (not a police officer) shooting of Trayvon Martin also deserves a blog in itself. Mr. Zimmerman does not look good and the initial handling of that case by the Florida police does not look good---but a final verdict must await the trial outcome and a final exposition of all available evidence. My only comment at this time is that Trayvon Martin could have (had he been armed) legally shot Mr. Zimmerman to death under Florida’s “stand your ground” laws. He was, after all, being closely followed and harassed by an armed and relentless individual. I doubt, however, Mr. Martin would have been released by the Florida police as was Mr. Zimmerman---who received far too much “professional courtesy“ after the shooting, in my opinion.
The lethal vs. non-lethal issue as I have discussed it in this blog is a matter of the limitations imposed by the basic physics of weapons and projectiles---and the complications of Human psychology.
Since the comments have already ventured out of the bounds of reason and politeness, I would suggest that even “Star Trek” solutions might not suffice as suitable “non-lethal“ alternatives. Obviously, Spock’s “Vulcan nerve pinch” requires immediate proximity. And, while “Set your phasers on stun” seems to leave the “stunned” victims unhurt in the fictional stories, I can’t help thinking that anything that so thoroughly shuts down the Human nervous system can be without harm. [And, speaking of “Star Trek,” good one, TheSdog.]
Finally, while I don’t particularly like “stand your ground” laws, I am willing to concede that right to police officers.
- Rudy Wittshirk