Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Police apologists cannot cover-up the tragic truth

There was a story on the front page of the Times on Monday and Tuesday about a shooting involving police at a local Walmart. Apparently an employee observed a heavy-set man in the parking lot carrying a handgun. She called police. After the police confronted the man in a designated smoking area, they escorted him to a police van; he broke away and ran toward a wooded area, with the police in chase. According to the initial report, the man—still running and not turning around—pulled out a gun and fired behind him without looking where he was shooting. The police returned fired, and the man fell dead. A young woman was seen running toward the felled-man, and she too was shot, falling dead near him. Two of the officers were said to be slightly wounded in the confrontation. Witnesses said that they heard one shot, followed by multiple shots fired in rapid succession. The newspaper accounts claim that police do not know who shot the young woman.

Now, a number of questions come at least to my mind:

1. The police were told he was armed. Why did they not confiscate the weapon, since they were arresting him anyways?

2. Why was the young woman shot?

3. What relation was she to the man? Husband, boyfriend, or father?

4. We can assume that the first shot was fired by the man. But “multiple” shots fired in rapid succession rather strongly suggests the police M.O.. How many shots were actually fired by the man, and was it by his weapon that the two officers were wounded?

5. Why are we asking such questions at all?

The answer to the question number five has been one that has long been suppressed by the majority of the public, and has come into sharper focus since the John T. Williams shooting; the word of police cannot be taken without a measure of dispute. No matter how hard the local media wants to spin the inquest results, for the first time in memory the majority of jurors did not find the shooting “justified.” Law enforcement suffered another bit of bad news with the $10 million settlement reached between King County and the family of Christopher Harris. In 2009, Harris received permanent brain damage after his head was violently shoved into brick wall by a King County Transit deputy outside a movie theater in Seattle; I’ve talked about the behavior of these deputies in a recent post, but I had forgotten about this incident. Harris had been mistakenly fingered by a witness as a suspect in an assault outside a convenience store. Apparently when Harris saw two men—deputies dressed in all-black “tactical” uniforms—yelling at him and running across the street toward him, he took off running. Harris stopped outside the theater, apparently believing that he would be “safe” from harm with so many people milling around; despite raising his arm in a gesture to stop, one of the deputies, Mathew Paul, practically dived toward Harris and rammed his head against the wall with shocking violence. Appearing oblivious to the Harris’ injuries, Paul dragged him away from the wall; Harris is obviously unconscious, yet the deputies on the scene seem to take turns shoving his prone body to and fro. The whole incident turns one’s stomach (unless, of course, you are a police apologist).

Meanwhile, some facts have trickled-out in regard to the Walmart shooting (although not necessarily the ones we were expecting). The man shot was Anthony Martinez, 31, who looks like one of those beefy biker dudes; he had been out on bail in Utah on a kidnapping charge after he and the "young woman" were found in California. The “young woman” turns out to be a thirteen-year-old girl, Astrid Valdivia--who was described as a "kidnap" victim, but in fact had run away from home to California with Martinez for reasons that were not immediately clear, but apparently had something to do with why she was subsequently put in a Utah foster care facility. According to initial local (meaning Washington) law enforcement reports, Martinez and Valdivia were described as “boyfriend and girlfriend,” and Martinez had “kidnapped” her, and he was being described as a “violent pedophile” by the media.

Martinez’ brother in Utah disputed this description, telling a Salt Lake City newspaper that Martinez had a relationship with the girl’s mother and had frequently baby-sit her children--that is until one day the husband that someone forgot to mention showed-up, and Martinez was instructed to hide in a closet, where he was found and an altercation took place; this was the "assault" charge on Martinez's record. Martinez also had apparently taken a “fatherly” shine to the girl who was described as “troubled” and “suicidal”--doubtless the reason why she wasn't returned immediately to her family after being found in California. This relationship would certainly explain the girl’s behavior after Martinez was shot; Utah authorities admitted that Valdivia had deliberately disabled her ankle monitor and packed all her belongings before escaping, indicating that this was not a “kidnapping” but entirely of her own intent. Of course, no one wants to believe this story, about a man who had a “good heart” according to his brother, and decided to commit “suicide by police” rather than go to prison. Tragically, the troubled, suicidal girl died as well.

What does the Seattle Times do? Instead of reporting this, it has a story about the handful of police that were shot on duty this past year; I’ve already talked about how despite the inherent danger of police work, law enforcement has only half the workplace fatality rate of the workforce as a whole. There is no disguising the fact that in a tragic world, the police often make it more so.

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