Six officers fired at least 59 shots in less than a minute, killing a man who had roamed his Tennessee neighborhood with a rifle and was looking to commit ”suicide by cop,” authorities said Tuesday.
Chattanooga police Chief Freeman Cooper told radio station WGOW on Tuesday that his officers acted properly in the face of threats by 32-year-old Alonzo Heyward.
”They only fired when they were presented with a threat,” he said.
A police dashboard camera with audio showed that all the shots were fired in three volleys within 30 seconds, Cooper said. The gunfire interrupted as officers repeated commands for Heyward to drop the rifle. Cooper said the simultaneous reactions of all six officers shows they acted properly.
”We are saying that our people did what we trained them to do,” Cooper added.
He did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.
I’ve argued before that police are humans, first and foremost. Like any one of us, they experience fear, nervousness, stress, and any number of debiliating emotions. Robocops, I assure you, they are not. While they may refer to their badges as “shields”, pieces of metal certainly don’t protect cops from succumbing to said emotions while on the job.
Still, there is something grotesque in hearing about officers who spray a lone individual close to sixty times; and with semi-automatic firearms no less (for the uninitiated, semi-automatic weapons only fire off one round of ammuntion each time the trigger is squeezed. So in this case, an average of ten squeezes per offficer took place). In a scene of excessive force mirroring the now infamous stories of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and many others, we now have even more evidence to suggest that police are clearly too trigger happy. The unfortunate consequence of itchy trigger fingers and unbalanced emotions in the corpse of yet another bullet-riddled victim.
One one hand, I can at least maintain that shootings like these are statistically aberrant. For every officer involved in an excessive shooting, I suspect there are many others who have never even drawn their weapon. But the problem is: once one or two officers start getting trigger happy, it has a contagious effect on officers around them. In what some social scientists are calling “contagious shootings” officers tend to discharge their weapon at a much more elevated rate when shooting in groups. Again, a prime example of how police are human. Exhibitions of reflexive and contagious reactions (no doubt propogated by fear, confusion, and perhaps some level of inflated, self-prescribed authority) don’t simply stop once a person becomes a sworn officer. Fortunately, Skip Gates learned this without getting shot to death.
Still, humanity alone can’t justify these demonstrations of excessive force. If trained officers are unable to subdue suspects without clearing out entire magazines, perhaps police work is not for them. In addition to the authority men and women receive when they are awarded with badges, there is also a great deal of responsibility that comes with the job. They are not given a charge to go out and pop everything that moves; doing so with a ten shot per man minimum. The officers in this case have clearly went overboard, emotionally driven or not. They should be made examples of. But with the ever-increasing history of excessive force and aqcuittals, I’m certainly not holding my breath.
What say you?