Joe the Cop on 09.20.10 at 2:43 PM
When the police shoot and kill someone, the aftermath can take on the aspect of urban kabuki theater. There seems to be a script, and soon enough the actors all step forward to play their role in the ritualized drama.
The case of George Lash, shot on the CTA Red Line by Chicago Police officers this weekend, provides a perfect illustration.
Allow me to present what I call the "ghetto shooting template". It's a short and very predictable outline for this type of story.
Step 1: A young black man with a healthy arrest record is shot and killed by the police; according to police he was armed at the time and threatening officers.
Step 2: "Witnesses" come forward, but only to the media--they won't talk to investigators, and say the dead man was either unarmed, handcuffed or surrendering. I haven't seen it yet in this story, but often you'll see some variation of the phrase "how come they got to do him like that" or "they didn't have to shoot him down like a dog".
Others will simply opine, as did Chitara Lockhart, that the police didn't have "...a right to shoot the man...They should have locked him up, not shot him." Urban experts like Chitara never seem to explain exactly how that tricky, locking-up part should go.
Other "witnesses", like Andrew Mims, will describe events in vivid detail:
"The lady just whipped it out like the Wild, Wild West and shot him five times...The guy was helpless and already subdued."
Mims goes on to say that he will not share his observations with police investigators, after he acknowledges his own "run-ins with law enforcement."
The media does its part to push the trigger-happy cop narrative by repeatedly referring to the dead man as a "teen" and running what appears to be an 8th grade graduation photo of the deceased. I suggest that his last few arrest photos would be a more accurate portrayal.
Step 3: Family members will come forward to describe the deceased as a good person, and the phrase "turning his life around" will appear. This is frequently accompanied by the family member telling of the deceased's plans to return to school. From WGN TV:
"Lash was working on getting his GED, and according to family was trying to get his life together."
From Chicago Breaking News:
He was trying to turn his life around, his brother said. Lash had been kicked out of South Shore High School but was trying to re-enroll at Lincoln's Challenge Academy, an alternative school for "at-risk" students.
"Trying to." Not "had enrolled" or "was enrolled". Nope. What that means was, at moments when Lash was confronted by a more responsible family member, he made vague assurances of someday, possibly, heeding their advice.
Sometimes the family will actually admit they knew the deceased had a gun, but refused to believe he'd actually point it at anyone.
Understand this: family members are absolutely useless when it comes to giving an honest assessment of the criminal activity of the deceased. Unless someone is a complete monster (and sometimes even then) they have family who love them and think they can do no wrong. Street thugs don't show the same face to their family that they show on the street.
Step 4: The family cries for "justice". Which really means, they call a lawyer and file a lawsuit. In some demographic groups, having a family member shot by the police is like winning the lottery. The harsh reality is, George Lash will be a better provider for his family as the subject of a civil lawsuit than he was ever going to be in his adult life. Even if every single review shows that the officers acted justifiably, the City of Chicago will probably cut a check in the tens of thousands of dollars just to make a lawsuit go away.