Updates On Police Shoo…No, Wait, Now Alfred Olango Is Dead
This post was going to provide updates about investigations into the police executions/murders/killings/accidents that claimed the lives of Terrence Crutcher* and Keith Lamont Scott**, but because time keeps on ticking away, it was not able to be drafted before police in El Cajon, California shot and killed Afred Olango, an unarmed black man.
As in previous cases of police-involved shootings, all of the following occurred:
- Police were called to respond to a man in crisis. (And in case the death of an unarmed man is not bad enough, this specific instance involves Olango’s sister having been the one to call for police asking for help.)
- Police did not have body cameras.
- Police collected “voluntarily provided” cellphone footage of the execution/murder/killing/accident and will make that footage available later, maybe.
- Police immediately began to make every imaginable attempt to justify having killed Olango anyway, insisting that he was not “complying,” that he was behaving “erratically,” and releasing a still image that would appear to show Olango with his hands pointing toward officers.
- Police have acknowledged that the man they executed/murderer/killed/accidented was not actually armed at the time of his death.
Vox is up on the story. Its reporting includes this:
Police said that Olango, a 30-year-old black man, ignored orders to take his hands out of his pockets. He then pulled an object from his pocket, aiming it at officers while taking what El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis described as a “shooting stance”: “At one point, the male rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together on it, and extended it rapidly towards the officer, taking what appeared to be a shooting stance, putting the object in the officer’s face.”
Even if we believe the officers’ accounts – it is almost as if video would certainly be useful in bolstering the claims being made – one wonders how exactly Olango could be simultaneously punished for having his hands in his pockets and for removing his hands from his pockets. Or perhaps it matters more for the next guy, given that Olango is now dead.
Those who defend these killings as having been the sole responsibility of the person killed often insist that there was something that the dead could have done that would have saved their life. “If only they had done something else…” is the common lament, which is then followed up by, “…but they didn’t.” Exactly what the dead could have done is never entirely clear and whether that is a feature or a bug is never thoroughly explained.
But for the record, here is what we know: taking your hands out of your pockets will get you shot (as it did Olango) and walking backwards will get you shot (as it did Scott) and putting your hands up will get you shot (as it did Crutcher) and reaching for your wallet will get you shot (as it did Philando Castile) and having police officers laying on top of you will get you shot (as it did Alton Sterling) and laying on the ground with your hands up will get you shot (as it did Charles Kinsey) and…
Well, we could keep going, although what that would achieve is unclear. We can, though, predict precisely where this conversation is going to go. Those of us who are hostile to the idea of a policing approach that leads consistently to the death of people who might have been dealt with more peacefully are, predictably, going to see Olango’s death as yet another in what seems to be a steady stream of such killings that have occurred over the last however many years. Those who give the police considerably leeway when it comes to killing citizens are, predictably, going to see Olango’s death as unfortunate but ultimately justified owing to the officers’ concerns that he posed a threat, regardless of whether he actually did. (He did not.) And those who are racists or authoritarians or both will celebrate Olango’s death, just as they have celebrated after every other police killing before, and will celebrate after whomever it is that dies next.
Knowing where the conversation will go is easy. What is more difficult is imagining what exactly will help to slow the occurrence of these shootings, especially when considering the three groups described above. What middle-ground is there, if any, especially when perfectly reasonable solutions (like additional training, financial sanction, and yes, body cameras) are rejected with righteous fury because of what making any change implies about what is currently occurring? But the conclusion that there is nothing to be done is equally disheartening, if only because innocent people are getting shot (and dying) at a very routine pace, so quickly in fact that we can barely learn one name before we are asked to learn another. So it will almost certainly go with Alfred Olango, a man whose name we will begin to forget because some other equally awful thing will have happened in the meantime.
*Crutcher’s killer, Betty Shelby, has been charged with “heat-of-passion” manslaughter. The charges came almost immediately and are limited in their nature – Shelby would face a minimum of four years in prison – and seem to have gone a long way in keeping Tulsa calm in the aftermath of the shooting.
**Keith Lamont Scott’s killer has not been charged, despite video evidence clearly showing a man with his hands down, walking backward away from the plainclothes officers pointing guns at him. Police have acknowledged that no video shows him making a move at police officers. Those who wish to justify the shooting are now exploring Scott’s apparently violent past in the hopes of finding something that will justify decisions made in real-time without any of the subsequently discovered information.