Donnell Thompson, Another Victim of Needless Police Militarization
August 11, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Following the shooting of Donnell Thompson, yet another unarmed young black man, Captain Steve Katz, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, remarked:
No question this is a terribly devastating event.
Thompson was shot and killed because police were searching for an armed carjacking thief. Never mind that Thompson was not involved in the car theft. Never mind that Thompson was simply passed out and laying in a yard. Never mind that Thompson was not armed. He could have been involved in the carjacking. He could have been armed and posed a threat to other officers. That was enough for our military to engage and fire upon the enemy combatant police to take him out.
To backup just a little, a carjacker had stolen a vehicle at gunpoint in the early morning hours. The carjacker lead police on a chase, exchanged gunfire, and then abandoned his newly acquired vehicle and fled on foot to elude capture. The carjacker fled into a Compton residential area and successfully, at least at first, evading police. About that same time, a concerned citizen called 911 to report finding a man lying in his front yard. Fearing the man might be connected to the carjacking, police responded in force.
Police in armored vehicles: BearCats, a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck. In essence, something akin to a tank. Specially outfitted for law enforcement purposes, BearCats include half-inch thick steel armored bodywork with .50 caliber rated ballistic glass capable of multi-hits, blast-resistant floors, gunports, roof hatches/turrets, and agency specific equipment and/or modifications such as lights, sirens, battering ram, winches, thermal cameras and spot lights. This particular unit is described as including a turret (a roof hatch) from which the deputy could fire upon Thompson with a M4 assault rifle while remaining covered within the vehicle’s armor.
So, police arrive and find Thompson lying in the yard. He is unresponsive to commands. Flash-bangs are detonated. Yes, flash grenades, stun grenades, or sound bombs, as they are called, were exploded to get his attention. Again, Thompson remained unresponsive. Not to be known for giving up, deputies then fired upon Thompson with rubber bullets, a less-than-lethal option available for threatening situations. Being struck repeatedly apparently jolted Thompson into reality. Perhaps unconscious, asleep, or passed out, Thompson was now awake and in overdrive. He jumped up and moved toward the armored vehicle.
Reciting those magic words, the deputy perched in the turret atop a BearCat, feared for his safety and that of his fellow deputies and fired upon Thompson, striking him twice in the torso. Unknown to deputies on this scene, other deputies had located and taken the carjacker into custody at 4:59 a.m., just seconds before the concerned citizen called 911 to report seeing a man lying in his yard as he took out the morning trash. Despite the carjacker being in custody, the 911 responding deputy reported he had found the carjacker and armored vehicles quickly appeared to assist.
This week, the department acknowledged Thompson was in no way connected to the carjacking:
That was July 28. For almost two weeks, the Sheriff’s Department insisted that Thompson was a second suspect in the carjacking.
On Tuesday, the department admitted it had killed an innocent man.
“No question this is a terribly devastating event,” Capt. Steve Katz said during a news conference. He said there was “no physical evidence” connecting Thompson to the carjacking or shootout and promised a “thorough” and “complete” investigation into the shooting, according to the Associated Press.
Yes, this is an extremely devastating loss of a young innocent life. It is a tragedy. It is horrific, and it ought to spark more conversation and debate about the militarization of our police. Police arriving in heavily armored vehicles with assault rifles and tons of backup were afraid of a young man lying in the grass? Yes, he could have been armed, but he wasn’t. Yes, he could have been involved in the carjacking, but he wasn’t. Yes, his life could have been saved, but it wasn’t.
The 20-year deputy who shot and killed Thompson has yet to be named, though he has been transferred to desk duty.
The militarization of our police has created a war zone. Those outside the armored confines are the enemy. They will be taken out at all costs. The police response is aggressive and hostile, no longer serving and protecting but militarizing against the citizenry. Do we really need a tank, or multiple tanks, to respond to a call about someone sleeping in the yard?
Yes, there are times where heavily armed police forces might be necessary: hostage situations, active shooting scenes, large riots, and even terrorist threats. But for someone sleeping in the yard? For a car thief? Where do we draw the line? And just how counter-productive is the militarization? And just how counter-productive is the militarization? Police see a war; they are outfitted for battle with military styled uniforms and equipment. Their attitude adjusts. And aggressive behaviors, such as shooting an unarmed man from the confines of the armory, become the norm. Over the top police actions give officers a sense of entitlement to that behavior. It’s okay to show force against the enemy, right? No wonder we have a war between police and citizens.
What possible threat could Thompson have been to the deputies in the armored vehicles?
“The commands being ignored, they used less-lethal force that was ineffective, the guy was running away. … Those factors are very relevant in leading them to believe, ‘This guy has done something wrong. This is our guy,’” Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and attorney who advises several law enforcement agencies in the state, told the Times.
Oh yes, he was running away. There’s the threat that justifies military police action. Stop the enemy yard sleeper before he retreats. Just another terribly devastating event.