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Monday, March 19, 2012

Shoot/Don't Shoot: Shooting Kids

January 4, 2011
Chicago, Illinois

     Officers patrolling a west side neighborhood for gang and drug activity, spotted a car that matched the description of a vehicle believed to be carrying guns and narcotics. As one of the officers approached the pulled-over car, the driver put it in reverse and rammed the police cruiser. The officer behind the wheel fired his gun as the suspect lurched forward and brushed the other officer. When the passenger in the suspect car pulled a gun, the officer on foot shot him and the driver.

     The wounded suspects turned out to be a pair of 15-year-old boys. After a couple of days in the hospital, the teenagers were charged with aggravated battery and sent to a juvenile detention center. Given the circumstances of the case, no one objected when the authorities ruled this police involved shooting justified.  

March 14, 2011
Lansing, Michigan

     When the intrusion alarm at the Bank of America went off at 3:30 in the morning, five police officers responded to the scene. After discovering the place where the burglar had broken into the the building, three of the officers entered the bank. Two of the officers encountered the intruder hiding in a small storage room. The cornered bank burglar turned out to be 17-year-old Derrinesh Clay. The five foot four, 120 pound girl, wearing a black winter coat with a fur-trimmed hood, black sweatpants over jeans, and a multicolored backpack, brandished a pair of scissors. 

     Lansing police officer Brian Rendon ordered Clay to drop the weapon. When she didn't, he grabbed her by the wrist. The girl put up a fight, and she, Rendon, and another officer ended up on the floor. As the officers tried to handcuff the burglar, she pulled out a serrated steak knife and took a swipe at Rendon, cutting the front of his coat. From a foot away, Rendon pulled his .45-caliber Glock and fired twice, hitting the black girl in the head and stomach as she knelt in front of him. The girl died at the scene. 

     In 2005, Officer Rendon had shot and killed a pit bull, and three years later, shot and wounded a man who came at him with a knife. He was cleared on both shootings. Investigators with the Michigan State Police found that in the Clay shooting, Officer Rendon's deadly force was a "justifiable act of self-defense." The prosecutor's office agreed, therefore no criminal charges have been filed against Officer Rendon. 

     Derrinesha Clay had been in trouble with the law before. Police had recently arrested her for committing a pair of home invasions. She had also been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and may have been bipolar. 

     Critics of the police shooting, and there are many, believe that the girl's death could have been avoided. The officer, they say, could have backed off without risking his life. Why didn't he use a taser gun to subdue her. In September 2011, the dead girl's mother, Mary Rush, filed a federal lawsuit in the U. S. District Court in Grand Rapids against Officer Rendon and the city of Lansing. The plaintiff accuses the defendants of gross negligence, battery, and civil rights violations. Regardless of the outcome of this case, the incident has strained relations between the police department and the city's minority community. 

January 4, 2012
Brownsville, Texas

     At eight in the morning, a school administrator at the Cummings Middle School, spotted a student who possessed what looked like a handgun partially concealed under his shirt. The boy stood in the hallway outside of the main office. A few days earlier, 15-year-old Jaime Gonzales had been in a fight with another boy. The concerned school official called 911.

     Gonzales, when approached by several police officers, drew his gun. One of the officers yelled, "Take him out!" When the kid refused to lower his weapon, the police, armed with automatic rifles, shot him in the chest and in the back of the head, killing him instantly. 

     The weapon Gonzales pointed at the police turned out to be a pellet gun that looked like the real thing. The dead student's parents have protested the shooting, and have called for an independent investigation. But in the light of school shootings that have resulted in the deaths of so many students and teachers, it's hard to fault the police in this case. Hindsight is one thing, but these officers had to make a split shoot/don't shoot decision. Based on news reportage of this case, it seems justified even though the boy was fifteen, and armed with a pellet gun.  


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