Say you're a police officer decked out in full SWAT regalia. You and four colleagues perform a pre-dawn no-knock raid on a house where "trace amounts" of illicit drugs were allegedly discovered in the trash. Your team doesn't announce itself; you just batter down the door and throw a flash-bang grenade into the house, and then you all storm in. The terrified homeowner, a middle-aged woman in a nightgown, is found holding (not pointing) a gun — a gun she later turns out to have bought for protection after her stepdaughter was murdered. The weapon is legal, and registered. Also, the woman is well-liked in her neighborhood and runs Bible study classes on her lunch breaks. But you don't know any of that, and why would you? Police intelligence doesn't have to answer questions about an alleged perp's character first. The inclination is to shoot first, and ask questions later. So that's what you do. You shoot the woman three times, firing the third bullet at essentially point-blank range, after she's already slumped over and her grip on the gun has loosened.
Now what happens? If you're officer Carlos Artson of the Baltimore County Police Department, nothing happens, except that your superiors appreciatively slap you on the shoulder; and then, the next year, they award you a Silver Star for the "valor, courage, intelligence, and bravery" you displayed in shooting Cheryl Lynn Noel.
Officer Artson may have simply made a wrong but defensible split-second decision when he fired the first two shots. I understand full well that to a cop, or to any person, the sight of a firearm in the hands of a possible perp could reasonably trigger a violent act of self-defense (though verbally urging the other to drop the weapon should under almost all circumstances precede the use of deadly force).
But that's as far as it goes. The third and possibly fatal shot, delivered seconds later, at virtually point-blank range, when the victim was already down and no longer a threat, was "wholly unnecessary and grossly excessive," as the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Cheryl Lynn Noel's family alleges. And don't forget that if officer Artson can be said to have acted in self-defense, the same is certainly true for Noel, who lived in a dicey neighborhood and didn't know who the nighttime intruders were.
In addition, the lack of self-awareness on the part of the police department is breathtaking. It's one thing — though it's borderline sociopathic — to have a SWAT team carry out a pre-dawn no-knock raid for no other reason than that trace amounts of drugs were allegedly found among the coffee dregs and the potato peels. It's another thing — vile, callous, and cruel — to engage in nose-thumbing triumphalism by giving an award to an officer who, for good reason, is the focus of a wrongful-death suit.
The biggest problem here is not the alleged presence of "trace amounts" of illicit drugs in someone's trash. The biggest problem is the absence of trace amounts of proportionality, decency, and humanity among our country's unquestioning, trigger-happy drug warriors.
[hat tip: the Agitator]