That’s what came to mind as I watched the video of a Memorial Day Weekend shooting during a raucous night in Miami Beach. If you failed to see the footage, aired on National News, it went as follows:A car runs a stop sign and officers attempt to pull it over; the driver strikes one officer with his car, nearly hits four others and continues driving erratically. When the vehicle stops, police surround the vehicle and shots are fired. The driver dies.
The focus of the national coverage was clearly the police actions, both the fact that numerous officers had surrounded the car and simultaneously unloaded a barrage from less than 20 feet away and that angry officers had taken away cell phones. Okay, I get that. Those questions deserve answering.
But what does it say about the media when the reporter seems to gloss over the fact that the driver, Raymond Herisse, had just ran over a cop, almost hit four others, and had a gun in the car? I believe I mentioned the lack of trust between cops and reporters in a previous column–this is a prime example.
Based on my experience, I think much of the actions of the cops speaks for itself.
When a large group of police officers surround a target, give the appropriate verbal commands over several seconds, and then suddenly all burst out shooting at the same time, there can really only be one reason: an imminent threat. It’s not hard to imagine that those officers, most of whom were probably locked onto that driver with a nasty case of tunnel vision, all observed the driver make a deliberate and aggressive move. Given the firearm that was later discovered in the car, it’s pretty easy to put it all together.
As cops approached the car you could hear their shouts to clear the area, and plenty of time was given to heed the warning for those actually interested in giving up their front row seat. Still, some of the onlookers were shockingly close to the action as they watched and, in some cases, filmed the shooting. Unfortunately, four were struck by bullets. It was a poor reflection on the police but it also an incredible act of stupidity on the part of those individuals remaining in harm’s way.
The reason the story of this particular shooting made national news appears to be the onlooker’s reaction to police confiscating their cell phone cameras. From the cops’ viewpoint there are several reasons for their reactions. First, ignoring police commands is the crime of obstruction in most states, including Washington. Much of the purpose of this law is to prevent the type of injuries that occurred in this very incident. The second issue is that making an audio and video recording of someone requires two party consent in some states, including Washington. Lastly, a major incident of this nature will require the confiscation of many items, including cell phone cameras, for evidentiary purposes.
From the public’s standpoint, however, none of the above reasons for confiscating a person’s property should override the need for police to provide a reasonable and polite explanation if time allows. Though the cops had just been through a chaotic and violent incident, the ensuing news story would never have created a national furor if it had been handled with a little tact and diplomacy.
In the rush of adrenalin, and even the tremorous aftermath of these stress-filled incidents, it is very hard to strike the right balance between defending the actions of a department and dealing with possibly legitimate complaints about police behavior. That is, however, the best time to get it right.
And I think we should all spend a moment considering such an incident from somebody else’s perspective.