The Much Expected Pokemon Homicide
February 3, 2017 (Fault Lines) – I’ve been cringing for months, expecting to hear of someone killing another over mistaken facts while playing Pokeman GO. It was bound to happen.
Pokemon GO really caught on in the United States. The mobile device game requires players to traverse neighborhoods, office parks, industrial areas, roadways – all in search of virtual booty.
Immediately upon its release, we started hearing of the dangers. You can imagine the pitfalls of keeping your head down in your phone while walking across the street and through backyards. Play through the night and your chances for finding more trouble (and Pokestops!) drastically increase.
As a street cop, at the height of the Poke-craze, I saw firsthand players darting in-and-out roadway lanes, walking into traffic sign posts, stumbling on curbs, and colliding with parkway trees. The number of late night 911 “prowler” calls spiked for a week too!
One of the funnier stories is the Michigan man who, on his search for Poke-booty, travelled near the police station. He was recognized by the cops and arrested on outstanding warrants.
“At least five individuals knocked on plaintiff’s door, informed plaintiff that there was a Pokemon in his backyard, and asked for access to plaintiff’s backyard in order to ‘catch’ the Pokemon,” according to the complaint. “Defendants have shown a flagrant disregard for the foreseeable consequences of populating the real world with virtual Pokemon without seeking the permission of property owners.”
But not all incidents are that laughable.
In Pennsylvania, a 15-year-old girl was struck by a car while crossing the road. In Minnesota, teens were threatened by a man (who happened to be a military veteran) after the man interrupted the teens playing in a park memorializing veterans. In Missouri, armed robbers exploited the Pokemon craze by luring potential victims to the designated stops.
Then there’s the Florida man who shot at the late night Pokemon GO partners near his home after he heard one ask the other, “Did you get anything?” According to the local sheriff’s office, the suspected teen burglars fled in their car, putting the man in fear of being run over.
But last week, in Virginia, it finally happened. A bona fide Pokemon homicide.
A 60-year-old Chinese man was out after 10:30 p.m., in his van, in the family’s neighborhood. The clubhouse was a local Pokemon “gym.” At some point, two security guards for the association confronted Jiansheng Chen, with one guard eventually firing multiple shots into the van. And into Chen.
Chen died on the spot. According to the dead man’s family attorney, Greg Sandler:
“The information that we have seen at the van and learned from a couple of people who either saw or heard various parts of this indicated that the security person was standing in front of the van and fired somewhere between five and 10 shots directly through the driver’s front windshield of the van.”
“I could see the security guard pointing at the car and he was yelling at the guy but I could clearly see that the guy was deceased,” she said. “The security guard kind of panicked, started cursing, I saw him pace around the car.”
The homeowner’s association confirmed:
“The River Walk Community Association does have a contract for unarmed roving patrol services for the common areas of the community,” it reportedly read. “We are fully cooperating with authorities investigating the incident that took place just outside association property.”
There’s a lot at play in this tragedy. Chen’s inability to speak any English. A protective residential association. A security guard who may not have been authorized to carry a firearm. A perceived intruder. The distraction of a video game. A late night disagreement between adults. It’s a deadly mix.
While it’s much too early to opine on this particular case, it raises (yet again) questions on the complex interactions between persons of authority and those they confront.
What is the historical context of the neighborhood? Has it experienced a trend of burglaries or other crime? Why the desire for a security contract?
What factors make potential threats stand out? Do the suspicions rise to the level of contact? Why? Or do they merely warrant additional observation? Or should guards simply call the next layer of authority (police)?
What training do we give our security guards? Observational and surveillance skills? Conflict resolution? Strategic or tactical decision making? Interviewing? Emotional intelligence or de-escalation?
What do we expect of our security guards? Confront trouble? Call 911? Detain violators?
Do we as the public view security guards as legitimate holders of authority? Are they “rent-a-cops” or wannabes? In what ways do we view law enforcement officers and security guards as similar? And different?
How are persons in position of authority programmed to view non-compliance? (And I’m talking about teachers, bosses, coaches, and homeowners too!) And what are the darned good reasons why some people don’t comply with requests & orders from those authorities?
How do we hire our security guards? Are they overzealous, high-strung authoritarians? Are they off-duty police officers? If so, are they given clear direction on how to distinguish the tension between roles as a police officer versus a security guard? Are they working tiresome double shifts as cops and guards?
To what extent are those who don’t speak the local “language of authority” responsible for their own (perceived) defiance or disobedience.?
These are tough questions to ask; they’re tougher to answer. They paint a broader picture of American private security.
I have to assume the language barrier between the Virginia security guard and Chen factored into the escalation. I’ve heard many Westerners describe Asian languages (and those who speak them), for even the most loving, compassionate discussions, as sounding aggressive, loud, and argumentative. Language matters. Even I’ll concede that I’m biased into thinking the tone and flow of a French-speaker, even while yelling profanities at me, sorta sounds like the recital of a love poem.
I’m also a bit skeptical into believing grandpa Chen posed a comprehensive threat that rose to a deadly force response. That’s just me, from the comfort of my home office, with hindsight of only a handful of facts and speculations. I’d have to traverse a lot of challenging terrain to go on a real life treasure hunt for hidden clues and answers.
Now get your face out of your phone and ask those tough questions. So tragedies like this can be avoided in the future.