BREAKING: Officers Do Not Kill Suspect

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Okay, it's not "breaking," but it does seem worth commenting on two recent cases in which officers did not open fire on a suspect.

Of course most police-citizen interactions do not end in death, but lately it has at least started to seem a little like that's the exception rather than the rule.

The first of these surprisingly non-fatal incidents is the one in which a 42-year-old man jumped the fence, ran across the lawn and got into the White House [update: two rooms into it] before he was apprehended. Some, perhaps understandably, saw this as a failure. "Under no circumstances," said Politico, "should anyone be able to vault over the fence and run unimpeded into the residence." Really? What if the place is on fire and the person is a firefighter? What if the vaulter is a 14-year-old kid who doesn't know there are supposed to be snipers on the roof to protect the lawn?

Okay, maybe they should not actually be able to "run unimpeded into the residence"—and the White House has announced that from now on, darn it, it is going to keep that door locked—but in cases like that I think most would prefer that the intruder not end up dead, even if a shooting might be seen as understandable.

And that, surprisingly, is what happened here. As Josh Voorhees wrote at Slate, "it's worth pausing for a second to acknowledge something the Secret Service got right amidst all they did wrong: not a single shot was fired. [Omar] Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran who is likely mentally ill, is still alive."

The second and possibly even more astounding incident happened over the weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when this happened:

[T]hree men were in the street, one of whom had a sword raised over his head and was moving toward another man. The officers shined their spotlight on the man and told him to drop the sword, while taking out their guns and pointing them at the man.

The man … did not comply and instead ran at the police officers. He stopped about 15 feet away from the officers and was placed under arrest….

(Emphasis added.) Wait, what? I would call that last sentence a "twist ending," because it is most unlikely that anybody doing what this guy did would ever get the chance to stop voluntarily. In fact, I just paced off 15 feet here in my office and I'm now upgrading that to "almost impossible." My office is frankly not that big, but if I were armed, once inside that door waving a sword your lifespan might be limited. But this guy, too, is still alive.

Compare that case to this one, in which two St. Louis officers killed a 25-year-old man who walked toward them with a knife. The incident was caught on video (which, needless to say, is graphic). As soon as they arrive, the officers leap out with guns drawn, though at that point they have no reason to think he's dangerous. (He had been wandering around outside a convenience store, yelling.) And while a shot or at least a tasing is probably understandable once he approaches, they shoot to kill.

There's also video of the fatal shooting in the John Crawford case, which shows officers immediately opening fire on a man wandering around Wal-Mart with an air rifle that he had picked up off the shelf, talking on the phone and making no threatening moves. In that case a 911 caller had claimed (falsely) that the man was threatening others, but still the police made no attempt to assess the situation before opening fire. (Last week a grand jury declined to indict the shooter.)

Finally there's this one, which was not fatal but the speed with which the officer opens fire is incredible. He has stopped this driver for a seatbelt violation, and the driver's standing outside the open door of his truck. The officer asks him for his license, and he calmly leans in to get it. Apparently assuming the driver is reaching for a gun, the officer almost immediately fires four shots at him, hitting him once in the hip. All this was captured by the officer's dash cam, which also then recorded quite a few iterations of the question, "Why did you shoot me?" and some not-very-convincing answers. Possibly more surprising is that in this case, the officer has actually been fired and is being prosecuted.

Anyway, while officers who shoot too fast should be criticized (at a minimum), as Voorhees was suggesting we should take a second to praise the ones who don't shoot when they probably could have. Two cops in Michigan stood their ground and kept their heads when some guy charged them with a sword. Now that's bravery.

Do they give out decorations for not shooting people? If they do, those two should get one.