Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A few thoughts on the Alton Sterling shooting.

A screencap from the scene. Abdullah Muflahi. 

As you may be aware, there has been another controversial shooting involving white officers and a black suspect. In this case it happened in Louisiana. Video showed the suspect, Alton Sterling, resisting arrest. Officers screamed that he had a gun and then shot Sterling in the chest and back, killing him. Extremely graphic video has been posted but I don't particularly want to have it on my blog. It can be easily found on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else such violence is posted. I urge you to watch it yourself before you make up your mind but be aware that a small video clip does not tell the whole story. A Reuters news article detailing the events of this case and the reaction to it can be found here. Be aware it is biased, but less so then most other media outlets. 

My reaction to it was that this was a justified shooting, initially. More evidence can come out later that could change that of course, as I am willing to update my beliefs when I discover new evidence. So why do I think this was justified? It's basic self defense. Supposedly Alton Sterling had a gun and had been pointing it at people. That alone makes this a justified shooting in my eyes. If you know or think someone is armed then it becomes a lot more easy, legally and morally, to take extra steps to defend yourself. If you watch the video closely you can see Alton Sterling moving his right arm. That could be interpreted so that he was reaching a gun. Which is of course reasonable doubt if this case ever goes to trial.

But is the video telling the whole story? Probably not. It is still possible that the cops screwed up here. The news media has been extremely cagey and has not confirmed that Sterling was armed. Some people are saying that there was a gun in the video but I couldn't really make out what the cops pulled out of Sterling's pocket. The witness that shot the video, Abdullah Muflahi claimed that Sterling was armed, but that hasn't been confirmed as of this writing. Still, even if the cops only thought that he was armed, the shooting would still be justified. Remember, self defense laws usually consider the mental state of the shooter. If a reasonable person would think that their life was in danger then a shooting can be justified. I think it is fairly reasonable for cops to act like a person is armed if they have received reports that the person is armed. 

There could be other mitigating or aggravating factors as well. If the reports that I have seen are true, it sounds like Alton Sterling already resisted being shot by a Tazer. We are also missing a good account what happened after and before the shooting. Something could have happened then that would either make this clearly a bad shooting or completely exonerate the cops. I haven't seen either yet but as the investigation continues some could come up. 

I do have to say that I have little sympathy for Alton Sterling. Obviously, if the cops did screw up and this was a bad shooting they should be punished. But that doesn't mean that Alton Sterling was a good guy. He's got multiple convictions including for violence and child molestation. If he was carrying a gun he was doing so illegally because he was a felon. And it sure looks like he was resisting arrest. 

A lot of people on Twitter and elsewhere have been saying that the cops should have shot Sterling in the arm. If that had happened, Sterling could have died anyways and the cops would absolutely gone to jail. It is completely illegal to shoot to wound in the United States as every time you shoot someone they can die and if you aren't in fear for your life you aren't justified in using lethal force. Again, shooting someone in the arm to wound is way more illegal then shooting someone in the chest and back to kill them. Besides, shooting someone in the arm is a lot harder then it looks, even at point blank range. The officers would have had a very good chance of either missing the arm entirely, hitting the other cop, or even just hitting the chest by accident. Either way it's worse than just shooting him in the chest. 

Finally, I have to wonder why this story is trending. Surely, the cell phone video is part of it. But if cops shooting innocent people is something that happens regularly, why don't we ever hear about one of these cases where the person shot was clearly in the right? There have been a few cases where the cops screwed up in some way, but there hasn't been one where the person shot wasn't resisting arrest or doing something similarly stupid. 

My guess is that it is just confirmation bias at work. The black community and Black Lives Matter think that cops hate black people and that there is some kind of conspiracy against them. When they hear of a case like this, they just assume the cops are wrong and the shot person was right. They don't wait until an investigation is completed, which often clears the cops when new evidence shows up. Now don't get me wrong, confirmation bias effects everyone, not just BLM, but it's clear to me that's what is happening here. I'm not sure if the cops were right or wrong yet, I just suspect that they were correct, but importantly I am willing to change my mind if new evidence. Indeed, when Walter Scott was shot and it was clearly shown on video that he was running away, which makes it an unjustified killing, I updated my beliefs on the case. It would be nice if more people would do the same when new evidence comes up, but that just doesn't seem to happen... 

No comments:

Post a Comment