The police officers who shot and killed Kajieme Powell, 25, in St. Louis, Missouri, on Tuesday did so while being recorded by a man with a cell phone camera. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and police union officials say the video is exculpatory and that the two officers on the scene followed proper protocol. Many who’ve watched the shooting grant that the police were put in a difficult, volatile, potentially deadly situation, but still feel that their actions were wrongheaded. The footage certain to be debated in coming days begins at the 1:20 mark. Be forewarned that the video shows a man being shot repeatedly and killed. Due to its disturbing nature some readers may prefer to skip watching it entirely.
…but he became more agitated and walked toward them, reaching for his waistband. Witnesses told police the man was yelling, “Shoot me, kill me now,” during the encounter, Dotson said. The officers drew their weapons and ordered Powell to stop. He did stop, but then pulled out a knife and came at the officers, gripping and holding it high, Dotson said. They ordered him to stop and drop the knife. When he got within 2 or 3 feet of the officers, they fired, killing Powell.
Was Powell holding a knife high as he approached the police officers? I don’t see that. It looks to me as though his arms remain low at his sides, and that detail doesn’t appear in the police report. The cause of this disparity isn’t clear, but the position of the knife doesn’t significantly change how much of a threat it posed, anyways.
The police arrive and instantly escalate the situation… Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous. But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car… They don’t seem to know how to stop Powell, save for using deadly force. But all Powell had was a steak knife. If the police had been in their car, with the windows rolled up, he could have done little to hurt them…
…Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs… He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance. They begin yelling at him to stop. And when they begin shooting, they shoot to kill—even continuing to shoot when Powell is motionless on the ground. There is no warning shot, even. It does not seem like it should be so easy to take a life.
That’s how I felt, too.
A police officer might retort that law enforcement shouldn’t be obligated to take on any extra risk to their own lives in a dangerous situation wholly and needlessly created by a person menacing them. A citizen deliberately baiting police with a deadly weapon cannot expect restraint. Even a small knife can be deadly.
Perhaps highlighting different reactions will at least clarify how different Americans feel about the same incident. If nothing else, a gulf in public opinion almost certainly undermines the effectiveness of police departments that depend on community support. With that in mind, here are some illuminating reactions to the killing.
Again, though, did they have to immediately put themselves in such close proximity to a man with a knife? Couldn’t they have tried to talk him down if they’d shouted from a distance rather than immediately getting close with guns drawn?
*Excerpts taken from The Atlantic.