The Summary Execution of Diaz Zeferino You Almost Never Saw
July 16, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Recently, I wrote about the shooting of two unarmed men in Gardena, California. The civilian witnesses who weren’t shot to death said one thing, the cops who did the killing and maiming said something else, and the public was left to wonder where the truth lay.
Of course, there was a $4.7 million civil settlement in favor of the civilians, but who knows what those crazy lawyers cooked up behind closed doors. Oh, did I forget to mention that the state was in possession of video of the incident?
The state is still in possession of that video. However, so is everyone else now that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the video unsealed. Somehow, the argument by Gardena’s attorneys that they thought the civil settlement meant they didn’t have to release the video did not fly with Judge Wilson. He pointed out the obvious, that since the settlement was paid by the taxpayers, they get to see the damn video.
So, the video. If taken out of context, it is horrifying. Each known fact that seeps in only further shocks the conscience. Briefly, someone’s bike was stolen. The police found two guys riding bikes and assumed the worst (that these were the thieves). The cops approached the two men (who were friends of the bike owner and were out looking for the thief).
The cops had their guns drawn, obviously. The brother of the bike owner saw this and approached to notify the cops that these were his friends and not the thieves. He was ordered to reach for the sky as well. He was shot and killed when he took his hat off. One of the friends was also shot (not killed) when the brother took his hat off.
I like to avoid hyperbole, but this video shows an execution. I am not saying the cops exited their vehicles and unholstered their guns with the intention of killing Ricardo Diaz Zeferino and seriously wounding Eutiquio Mendez. But at some point during the confrontation, something changed and those cops made the conscious decision to end a life.
District Attorney Rosa Alarcon watched this video and, knowing that none of the men were armed or involved in any criminal activity, determined the shooting to be justified. The police had no information to suggest that any of these men were armed. But they also had no way of knowing for certain that they weren’t. And therein lies the problem. If cops assume that everyone is armed (even though almost no one really is) then they are poised to react to situations that do not actually exist.
In the video, the normal person sees a person take off his hat and lower his arms. An immensely innocuous action. But if you allow yourself to assume that he has a gun, then it becomes kill or be killed moment for the cops. That he might have a gun is a risk that cops are all too unwilling to take.
We may have reached a breaking point with the Gardena video. The DA and the police department have publicly stated that the cops were justified in repeatedly pulling the trigger to neutralize the threat of having to hear information relevant to their investigation. The message is loud and clear – cops have an itchy trigger finger so don’t do anything to spook them.
This creates a problem for an arm-centric species like humans. We use our arms for lots of things, not just reaching for a gun when surrounded by massively superior firepower. If those Gardena cops had waited a second longer, they would have seen that Mr. Zeferino did not have a gun, and he likely would be alive (and charged with interfering with an investigation).
This video is important because it shows, in real time, what it means when a cop tells us that the suspect made a furtive movement or reached for his waistband. When those are just words, the mind conjures up a seedy character going for the draw and the cop doing what had to be done. But we see in the Zeferino video that the police can see a threat in the simplest of things.
Moving forward, we could ask the cops to change the way they view the general public. We could demand more levels of training and fluffy bunny classes to make them less shooty. Or we could just tell people to start treating cops like wild bears, and whenever you see them play dead. Playing dead is, after all, a better alternative to being dead.