Why facts matter in police shootings

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Two lives were among those lost to violent crime in the beautiful yet conflicted Los Angeles County during the first week of October, 2016. On October 1st, the Los Angeles Police Department took the life of 18-year old Carnell “CJ” Snell, Jr. in South Los Angeles. Later that week, on Oct. 5, LA County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, 53, was killed while responding to a routine burglary call in the quiet community of Lancaster. Two lives lost in one county, both drawing significant outrage from two ideologically opposing groups.

Snell, having died at the hands of the LAPD, drew an immediate and visceral reaction by the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). This reaction, brought on by uncorroborated social media posts from Snell’s own mother and school teacher that Snell was unarmed and shot in the back, spread like wildfire on social media and permeated the physical protests in the streets of Los Angeles.

Evidence shows, however, that Snell’s death was brought on by his own criminal behavior and not police misconduct. Snell was originally seen by LAPD officers crouching down in the back of a light-blue Nissan with paper plates that didn’t match the year of the car, indicating that it may be stolen. As officers followed the car with their lights and sirens on, Snell “bailed out” while the car was moving, “holding his waistband as if he was supporting something.”

This behavior is consistent through a police officer’s training and experience in surmising that Snell may have a gun, so the officers chased him for roughly 200 to 300 yards in where the officers saw Snell pull out the pistol from his waistband and hold it in his left hand. Officers chased Snell into a nearby driveway, where Snell turned toward them with the gun in his hand. Police opened fire and Snell died at the scene.

A .40 caliber Taurus handgun was recovered by Snell’s body after the shooting. Three days after the shooting, the LAPD released surveillance camera footage from a nearby store showing Snell crouching behind an SUV and pulling a handgun from his waistband. The handgun in the video, you guessed it, was a black Taurus .40 caliber.  Despite LAPD’s release of the video which disproves the initial statements made by his loved ones, causing outrage in the community. Still, BLM protesters still continued to spread rhetoric. They disrupted this week’s Los Angeles Police Commission meeting, chanting “Fire Charlie Beck” and “Black lives, they matter here!”, causing the meeting to recess after repeated interruptions from dozens of protesters holding signs that said: “Stop killing black people.”

During local news coverage of the protest, BLM organizer Melina Abdullah was asked about the video showing Snell holding the gun and said “I don’t care if he had a gun,” she said, drawing applause. “Because life matters.”

Four days later, on the opposite side of the county, Sgt. Steve Owen, a 29-year veteran of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, answered a routine burglary call in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7 in Lancaster. To Owen, who was awarded the Medal of Valor for going up against an armed suspect who had taken a driver hostage in a 2013 carjacking and kidnapping case,  this call was a common job. In yet another horrifying example of how police-work is anything but routine, Owen was suddenly shot in the face and killed by the suspect who then attempted to drive off in Owen’s police car, where he rammed another sheriff’s cruiser and led to a two-hour chase and standoff in a nearby home before he was shot and arrested.

Owen was a respected member of the LASD, both on the street as well as in their mounted unit, where he rode his own horse. He was known to be tough on crime, but also reached out to those on the street to try to keep them from continuing a life of crime. While off-duty, Owen volunteered as a youth mentor and football coach, in addition advising property and business owners on how to reduce crime in the community. His wife, Tania, who is a detective in the Sheriff’s Department’s arson and explosives detail, parented his stepdaughter and two adult sons.

These two lives lost in an area known for bright sun and the glamour of showbiz show the sharp divide in a nationwide dialogue. On the night Owen died, there were traditional reports on local and national news; a vigil in the community he served, and the planning of traditional department honors. However, there were no mass-protests in the street, days of intense news coverage, or political grandstanding made in response to Owen’s death the way there was for Snell.

And why not? Owen spent almost 30 years of his life serving others, responding to the aid of hundreds of African Americans and people of all races on their worst days. When off the clock, he coached football for kids of all races in a diverse community to be a positive role model for those who oftentimes see the all-too-common alternative of gangs and drugs.

In the meantime, BLM’s protests continue to set a more dangerous precedent; veering off their self-proclaimed cause of “working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise” to creating almost riotous conditions in the names of violent, armed criminals. While the South Charleston Police shooting of Walter Scott and Tulsa Police shooting of Terrence Crutcher brought understandable protest from groups like BLM, it’s their support of armed perpetrators who victimize African American communities that is becoming increasingly more disturbing.

BLM continues to protest in the names of armed and/or violent suspects, who include:

·        Michael Brown, whose investigation revealed was attempting to grab a Police Officer’s gun when he was shot following a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store,

·        Alton Sterling, who was a multiple felon armed with a handgun in a violent physical struggle with police when he was killed,

·        Keith Lamont Scott, who was armed with a pistol, had a prior shooting on his record, and whose own wife claimed he was armed and violent when filing a restraining order against him, and

·        Carnell Snell, JR, who was seen on video pulling and holding (not discarding) the very pistol that was recovered from him while running from the police.

At what point will our political leaders, the media, and the majority of the general public stand up and shout “enough is enough” to BLM’s racial bullying masqueraded as ‘social justice’? Sgt. Owen was the rule in law enforcement, not the exception. He was an example of why men and women of all races submit to rigorous background and psychological screenings, exams and years of training for the relatively low-paying job of serving the public. Meanwhile, Snell shows the rule, not the exception in those shot by law enforcement officers. Snell made the decision to be in a stolen car, obtain an illegal handgun, run from the police, and pull that handgun out.

While there are plenty of arguments to be made as to the quality of education, parenting, and a lack of skilled jobs that may have contributed to the making of Snell’s incredibly poor decisions, which is no fault to the uniformed police officers who had a duty to apprehend Snell. Sgt. Owen was robbed of his ability to go home after work and see his family, which very well could have been the fate of the LAPD officers had Snell been a little quicker on the draw.

If nothing else, the loss of these two lives demonstrates the fallacy of an argument that has dominated a great deal of public discourse of late.“Black Lives Matter” vs. “All Lives Matter” is, in my opinion a false dichotomy. As someone who grew up in both New York and Los Angeles during the crack explosion, I was taught that “No Lives Matter,” until you make a name for yourself and define how your life matters to those around you. Sgt. Owen’s life mattered, as was evident by the community he served, the family he raised, and the legacy he left. CJ Snell, on the other hand, died at only 18 years old after bailing out of a car that was stolen from someone who likely needed that car to get to work, pulling an illegal firearm out on a police officer. Did Snell’s life matter? You be the judge.

Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Pierce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter@PublicSafetySME


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.





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