Hot Air: Police Street

A Foreign Occupation Force

So, another black guy has been iced by the cops, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Add the name Alton Sterling to the list of victims this holy land has taken a delight in compiling over the last few years.

The cops are saying a 911 call came from someone who said he was being threatened by a man with a gun in a convenience store parking lot. When officers got to the scene, they scuffled with Sterling. During the scrum, someone seems to have yelled out “He’s got a gun!” The cops then filled Sterling full of lead.

As usual, eyewitness accounts vary widely from those of the cops. Passersby are saying Sterling offered little resistance to the officers, who nevertheless slammed him down on a car hood and tasered him.

At this moment, it’s impossible to know for certain what happened. The Baton Rouge PD, state police, the FBI, and the US Department of Justice all will be conducting investigations. Louisiana’s governor says he has “very serious concerns” about the killing. The local NAACP office is calling for the town’s mayor and police chief to quit.

There is one key piece of information that troubles me. Acc’d’g to the owner of the convenience store and other neighbors, Sterling had been a fixture at the parking lot for at least the last six years. He’s been a peaceful, well-liked guy. He sold CDs in the parking lot with the convenience store owner’s permission. He was one of those guys who really makes a neighborhood.

Only the cops, obviously, had no idea who he was. To them, he was just another anonymous black guy who may or may not have been packing heat. And when someone uttered the word “gun,” one of the cops pulled his trigger — again and again and again. Sterling, says the parish coroner, died of “multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back.”

Why didn’t the cops know who he was? If Sterling indeed was a neighborhood institution, shouldn’t the cops have known that? Don’t they patrol? Don’t they talk to people here, there, and everywhere else on their beat?

I’d have thought policing involved getting to know the district well, being able to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys, establishing rapport with residents, being on a first-name basis with shop owners, and so on.

What strikes me about so many of these extra-judicial street executions carried out by the cops is quickness in which they occur. The cops jump out of their squad cars and next thing you know, shots are fired. It’s as though the cops are driving around in sensory deprivation tanks rather than Ford Interceptors. They have no idea whom they’re dealing with or what the circumstances are. They spend too much of their days in isolation, in their cars, exiting only to eat, to take a leak, or to wade into a chaotic situation.

Would all those situations be so chaotic-appearing if the cops had ongoing relationships with the people involved? Would they be so eager to squeeze their triggers if their targets were people they said hello to every day, whose families they knew?

Blanket statement: The cops should know very well the guy who’s been standing in the same parking lot for six years selling CDs. Strangers are scary, especially when they may have guns. They’re a hell of a lot easier to shoot and kill than people you know.

July 6th Birthdays

Frida Kahlo — Flamboyant Mexican painter with horrible taste in men.

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Bill Haley — The top Comet.

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Pat Paulsen — Comedian. Presidential candidate.

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Burt Ward — TV’s Robin, sidekick of Adam West’s Batman.

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