How Should Police Stop A Knife-Swinging Laquan On PCP?

In the latest high-profile racial railroading of a white policeman for obvious political reasons, it has taken authorities over a full year to decide to charge Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke in the fatal shooting of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

The obviousness of the racial/political theater here is largely due to the fact that the timing of the ridiculous charge — first degree murder — being suddenly announced after all these months, so transparently coincides with the sudden FOIA public release of a police dashcam video of the shooting which, to the untrained eye, looks pretty bad.

The video in question has been in the possession of the authorites this entire time.  If it was a bad shoot, especially if so bad as to amount to first degree murder, they should have charged him long ago, apart from the racially ginned-up public and media hysteria wrought by release of the video, no?

As for allegations about the incident itself, there are some gray areas, and some clear-cut lines.

Officers were attempting to apprehend McDonald, who was later determined to have had PCP in his system, after he had been rampaging around the area and using a knife to not only break into cars and other property, but also slashed the tire of a police car when an initial attempt to arrest him failed just moments before he encountered Van Dyke and other officers.

The video shows that McDonald was not “walking away from” the officers, as many are insisting; he was walking briskly abreast of them and turning toward them(5:05), his left hand inside his pocket and swinging the knife in his right hand.

Most police officers are trained on the “21-foot rule”(also known as the Tueller Drill), the distance at which an officer’s “reactionary gap” (the time it takes the officer to recognize the threat, reach, draw, aim, and fire on the subject) puts his own life in jeopardy from a subject with an edged weapon.

Here’s a very good demonstration of the 21-foot rule:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_KJ1R2PCMM

It has been proven over and over again (unfortunately not only in training drills but in many cases where officers have been murdered/gravely wounded) that an agile subject with an edged weapon can suddenly, as rapidly as 1.5 seconds, close a distance of up to 21 feet to fatally stab/slash a victim, even kill or seriously wound a trained police officer armed with a gun.

That’s less time than it takes an officer to recognize the threat, reach, draw, aim, and fire on the subject — the “reactionary gap.” 1.23 seconds is the fastest closing time of the 21-foot distance measured.

I played the video over and over at various speeds.  At 5:05 McDonald actually turns toward the officers as he walks briskly abreast of them, swinging the knife in one hand, his other hand in his pocket.  He takes 4 more steps before suddenly jerking, spinning, and going down.

If Van Dyke perceived McDonald’s turning toward the officers as signaling an attack, it can be argued that he legitimately deemed McDonald (who had just slashed a police car’s tire with the knife) to be an imminent deadly threat within the 21-foot reactionary gap.

That perception might not mean to a jury (Graham v. Connor) that Van Dyke necessarily had to shoot McDonald, but it would definitely mean he’s not guilty of murder.  Not first degree, nor second degree.

The 21-foot rule has come under scrutiny and criticism in recent years/months, and I predict it will (just as “stand your ground,” misapplied as it was, in the Zimmerman case) be the centerpiece of this case.

Not guilty.

Oh, and by the way, as for the number of shots Van Dyke fired (the video also shows the PCP-loaded perp still reaching for something, presumably a weapon, long after he’s down), the answer is that once the decision to use deadly force is deemed appropriate, the number of shots is really moot — although we all know that the public, media, and jurors tend to imagine that there can somehow be some kind of “excessive” force beyond deadly force.

Here’s an excellent but horrific real-life example of why the 21-foot rule came about.  A man armed with a blade is surrounded by police who have guns, yet he manages to kill 2 of them and gravely wound 2 others before being brought down, still moving on the ground:

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19 thoughts on “How Should Police Stop A Knife-Swinging Laquan On PCP?

  1. Of course a jury gets to say. I have no power beyond my ability to engage with you.

    You are limited to the same things I am here: the video and stories told to the press. You use hyperbolic language as mush as I have (“PCP loaded perp… rampaging…”) based on circumstantial evidence. Your conclusion is that Laquan McDonald deserved to die, my conclusion is that he did not. Your conclusion is that the Officer was righteous in using deadly force, my conclusion is that he was not and his actions showed malice intent.

    Are you arguing because deadly force is a policy that it becomes defacto manslaughter if this policy is abused? Don’t you see the loop hole in this logic? A police officer could shoot anyone claiming he fears for his life and the limits of his prosecution would end at manslaughter (this feels inherently problematic, because that means police are above certain laws).

    Where things get messy, I think, is this policy of deadly force. What it seems you’re arguing here is a pseudo-Nuremberg defence: the Officer was following orders (policy) even if he was negligent in their execution. That’s interesting, but is also very problematic.

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    1. Nowhere did I declare that Van Dyke was justified, nor that it was manslaughter. I merely explained why, based on what’s available to us, there’s plenty of reasonable doubt of guilt on any charge, and why I’m not ruling out that he’ll be found justified/not guilty of anything, including manslaughter, because too many people comment as if they are oblivious to that possible charge as a lesser included alternative.

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  2. Peter

    I think I’ve unintentionally conflated two issues:

    1. Whether or not the Officer should’ve used deadly force in the first place.

    2. Once he used it, whether or not it can become excessive.

    Weirdly, I think we’re saying the same thing: if it was deemed he used deadly force righteously he cannot be charged with murder (what happens after deadly force is used becomes a separate crime).

    Just like if it was deemed that that Officer committed murder, he cannot be charged with over murdering his victim.

    You said: “Once the decision is made to use [deadly force], it is presumed to result in death.”

    This is also true of murder. Once the decision is made to kill someone [and action taken], it is presumed to result in death (this is murder and there is a spectrum of degrees).

    Deadly force, in its nature, is conditional murder sanctioned by law, right? To use it, one must meet those conditions. If they don’t meet those standards, then they must face justice. So I stand by my analysis above:

    Objective. Violent. Reasonable:

    Objective (your words): “…he was walking briskly abreast of them and turning toward them… his left hand inside his pocket and swinging the knife in his right hand.” At no time, objectively, within the video, or by the crimes he was suspected of committing, can it be determined that his intent was to do any of those police officers or another human being any harm.

    Violent: Being high on PCP is not a crime. At most, it’s public intoxication (disorderly conduct). Vandalism is not considered a violent crime. Carrying a 2.5 inch folding knife is not a violent crime/or usually considered criminal (again, at most, it’s disorderly conduct). There was no reasonable probable cause to engage this perp as a violent criminal.

    Reasonable: The facts, in and of themselves, do not prove intent to do violence. The video does not indicate intent to do violence. At most, objectively, it proves that the perp could not walk in a straight line.

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    1. I appreciate that you do not necessarily agree with the policies you describe here. I feel like it is people like you than can affect real change. When I read stuff like this, it sometimes feels like we’re nitpicking rules that maybe should not exist in their current incarnations. I try to take a broad perspective of these policies and ask what do they really mean. I’m not sure that “centre mass, kill their ass” is ultimately a helpful rendering of these ideas because it automatically creates distance between the police and those that they serve and protect.

      I do appreciate you taking the time to engage with me.

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      1. Malice can be expressed or implied. Malice is implied when no considerable provocation occurs. So you’re right, murder is limited to those who show malice. Laquan McDonald showed no provocation (within the general rules of law or those that govern the use of deadly force) yet this police officer engaged him with deadly intent and Laquan McDonald died. Deadly intent. Death. This is not manslaughter.

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      2. Please. Graham v. Connor means the jury gets to say whether Van Dyke’s motivation/fear was reasonable, from a trained police officer’s perspective given the totality of the circumstances at the time, not from an untrained ordinary person’s perpective watching a distant dashcam video angle 13 months afterward.

        As for manslaughter, I suggest you learn the definition.

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  3. Peter

    I would argue that your logic is flawed because you assume, incorrectly, that deadly force will automatically lead to death. The definition of deadly force is “…the degree of force used which is likely to lead to death OR serious bodily injury.” Using deadly force does not guarantee death. Using deadly force acknowledges that this type of force may lead to death and affords certain protections for those Police that need to use it to protect themselves (within the rules of law). But once an Officer has defended himself and the perp is subdued (ex. perp lying on the ground), the need for deadly force has subsided, the situation has changed, and therefore the Officer’s tactics need to change with it.

    Here’s a Use of Force document from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/Use-of-Force.pdf

    Under section VI. D. Parameters of Deadly Force (emphasis mine):

    “An officer may use deadly force upon another person only when it is OBJECTIVELY REASONABLE to:
    1. Protect himself or others from what is REASONABLY believed to be an IMMINENT threat of death or serious bodily injury;
    2. Prevent the escape of a fleeing felon who the officer has PROBABLE cause to believe has committed a VIOLENT felony crime and is an IMMINENT threat to human life if escape should occur.”

    Objective. Violent. Reasonable:

    Objective (your words): “…he was walking briskly abreast of them and turning toward them… his left hand inside his pocket and swinging the knife in his right hand.” At no time, objectively, within the video, or by the crimes he was suspected of committing, can it be determined that his intent was to do any of those police officers or another human being any harm.

    Violent: Being high on PCP is not a crime. At most, it’s public intoxication (disorderly conduct). Vandalism is not considered a violent crime. Carrying a 2.5 inch folding knife is not a violent crime/or a crime (again, at most, it’s disorderly conduct). There was no reasonable probable cause to engage this perp as a violent criminal.

    Reasonable: The facts, in and of themselves, do not prove intent to do violence. The video does not indicate intent to do violence. At most, objectively, it proves that the perp could not walk in a straight line (most likely because he was intoxicated though I admit this is circumstantial). This is reasonable.

    Again, though, all this says was that there was more than enough to indict this officer and have these questions debated in a court of law.

    I understand culturally that we are trained to shoot “centre mass, kill his ass”, but this, in and of itself, is extraordinarily problematic. It defies the ability of the officer to be objective and reasonable in his/her assessment of danger and risk (it creates bias). It is an inappropriate belief system that is leading to the death of civilians and, increasingly, will lead to the prosecution of police officers who abuse (and WHO DO NOT abuse) this policy. This hurts everyone.

    Murder is not limited to those who have bad intentions. Sometimes people make bad decisions in the heat of the moment (like running from the cops when you’re high and just cut up the tires on a car; or continuing to shoot when any reasonable threat has disappeared). We’re humans, and in a free society, these bad decisions need to be scrutinized by the law (no matter the colour of our skin or our uniform).

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    1. You’ve shown that you can’t do basic reading comprehension, and that basic criminal law is way over your head.

      I never said using deadly force guarantees death. I said its use must presume that it will result in death. You don’t use deadly force with the intention of only causing serious bodily harm, although short of death it is also presumed that serious bodily harm could result instead.

      To the point: Use of deadly force, by definition, means the user intends to kill, because one must expect that to be the likely result when it is used.

      I have been steeped in use of force policy in various jurisdictions for literally over 3 decades; I can recite it backward and forward, so spare me your tiresome novice ignorance.

      As for the other absurdity you posted — murder, by definition, REQUIRES bad intent, genius. Sheesh. Get a clue before posting more nonsense.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Lastly, just because I clarify official use of force policy as it stands these days, does not necessarily mean that I agree with protocol. As with many official policies and laws, I believe those running things are mainly dense, incompetent bureaucrats. For example, I personally would never have thrown out the old aim-to-wound-where possible doctrine (even though when doing so one must presume nonetheless that death is likely a result, which is largely why they did away with it), nor especially the old warning shot doctrine, nor the old fleeing felon rule (although a court case, not bureaucrats, did away with that).

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  4. Peter

    1. 21-ft-rule applies to an undrawn weapon.

    2. To fire the weapon, there needs to be CLEAR intent by perp to do harm. Basically, he would have to be charging directly toward officer to show intent (not swaying in his general direction while moving perpendicular to him – the movement you highlight has no clarity of intent… this is an important distinction in law and probably why the majority of other officers did not fire on him).

    3. With gun drawn, it becomes a 10-ft-rule.

    4. How the Officer approaches is an important thing to note here. In this instance, the officer charged the perp, he closed the gap himself, and was negligent by putting himself and the other officers unnecessarily at risk.

    5. There is no such thing as “…once the decision to use deadly force is deemed appropriate, the number of shots is really moot…”. Deadly force isn’t something you’re trained to do or something you need to follow through on because that kind of logic is dangerous and does not act to serve the safety of the broader community. Police do not have a license to kill. In America, we’re trained to shoot centre mass. That’s it. If death happens, it is unfortunate but it is never the goal. Why? Because if the intent is to kill, that’s called murder. Police do not have the right to continue to use lethal force once the perp has been reasonably subdued (not apprehended, subdued). The number of bullets used is important because it can create a distinction between what is reasonable and what is excessive.

    6. How quickly can a prone assailant, with 4-6 bullet holes in him, cut your throat with a 2.5 inch folding knife (while you and half a dozen other officers have guns on him)? Does the 21-ft-rule apply here? Hint: it doesn’t. Once he hit the ground, the Perp’s odds of living, let alone harming anyone, become almost zero. To shoot him knowing these odds is more than excessive, it’s murder.

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    1. It’s apparent that McDonald was less than 21 feet from Van Dyke, so the case will hinge on whether Van Dyke had a reasonable fear for himself or others. It is impossible to determine the validity of that defense based on the video alone, just as it is impossible to convict him of any crime based on the video alone.

      Deadly force is called deadly force for a reason. Once the decision is made to use it, it is presumed to result in death. Early in my career, our training was “When possible, aim to wound, rather than to kill.” This was drilled into us, verbatim, at every single roll call. But as you are aware, the protocol changed over the years. “Center mass, kill their ass,” became the mantra.

      Consider the illogic of your own statement: “Once he hit the ground, the Perp’s odds of living, let alone harming anyone, become almost zero. To shoot him knowing these odds is more than excessive, it’s murder.” You want to convict Van Dyke of killing him too much?

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  5. Segkee

    In Britain, British Police apprehended a man alive without killing him after he had just cut the head off of a British Soldier. He was covered in blood and still wielding the machete as the police engaged him.

    This week, Police in Colorado apprehended a man alive with an assault rifle who had just killed three people including a police officer.

    What does this say? It says, there are other methods besides using deadly force. Deadly force should be the last instinct, not the first. And that PCP use, carrying a three inch folding, and vandalism do not justify a death sentence in a free society.

    One of the duties of police officers is to protect and serve all of its citizenry. Laquan was a wayward member of that community, 17-years-old, and should have been arrested, with reasonable force, for his crimes (which at the end of the day were fairly sad and implied that he was troubled and needed help).

    The reality is: police assume a certain amount of risk. It is inherent to their profession. That’s why we pay them. Assumption of risk does not fall on the citizenry, it shouldn’t!, and if it did, like it has in other political systems (USSR, etc), we would be living in a fascist state (afraid to live our lives). What this killing, and others like it (for essentially what boils down to petty crimes – loose cigarettes, jaywalking, vandalism, playing with toy guns, drug use), indicates is that some of our citizenry are living in a fascist-like state where the assumption of risk falls on them (based simply on where they live, their socio-economic standing, their mental health, their gender, and, disproportionately, the colour of their skin). Meaning, Laquan should’ve known that if he got high on PCP and cut tires on a car, it could lead to, or justify, a death sentence (which is absurd).

    The big thing here: people that fall into any or all of these categories are coming into contact more with police than those in the middle to upper classes. That means that their mistakes, their bad days, are leading to conflict and death that those in the middle and upper classes, who probably have a similar amount of bad days, are not exposed to. Police are an extension of society, they should be serving at our will, and it is their job to protect and serve us – all of us – and not just themselves and their brotherhood.

    We live in a weird world where a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun is killed by police, but a man in Texas in army fatigues, a mask, carrying an AR-15, follows an unarmed Muslim woman to her place of worship without police interaction. I’m not saying the guy with the AR-15 should’ve been killed, I’m saying that 12-year-old boy, if all things were truly equal, should still be alive today.

    We get a bit blinded when it becomes a white or black issue (especially if we fall heavily into one or the other category). We pick sides when the math of this is pretty simple: it’s all about perceived power (some call it white supremacy, but I actually think its just the idea of supremacy – that because I’m a cop, I’m the sheep dog and because you’re the citizen, you’re the cattle and I got to keep you under control). Black or white or any colour in between, people with perceived power will, without fail, abuse the fuck out of it (see Hutu Tutsi power dynamics followed by Tutsi Hutu power dynamics). And if we’re black or white or any colour in between we need to stand up when power is abused (because, ultimately, it is the citizenry that empowers – the sheep dogs don’t provide the beef).

    A justified killing should not be decided by the degrees of which way a criminal is swaying as he walks down a street. That’s the crux of your argument here and it is fairly thin. If a bar fight happens and a 300 lbs. man punches a 150 lbs, man, the 150 lbs, man gets to defend himself with equal force. He doesn’t get to shoot the 300 lbs. man. Police don’t get to use more force than a citizen has a reasonable right to because that would be insane!

    A justified killing is only justified when the threat is clear beyond a reasonable doubt (reasonable being the operative word here). The threat Laquan posed was very limited as he walked down the street. It became more limited as he laid on the ground shot. Yet the cop kept shooting at a body that was barely moving. 15 seconds is a fucking long time when you’re shooting a glock (4 secs on average to empty a 16 rd clip). That means the cop shot him in small, controlled bursts (first knocking the kid down, then while the kid was on the ground, stopping and shooting any movement). The cop had no system of risk assessment. A kid with four bullets in him, on the ground, the risk has been minimized to almost nil! Now think about that for a second. Now think about Laquan swaying as he walked down a street and let’s talk about intent to do harm and what is reasonable.

    I appreciate that you empathize with the cop here. Now empathize with Laquan. It should be fairly simple unless you’ve committed no petty crime, you do not carry legal weapons (a three inch folding knife, which the last time I checked is a legal carry), or have never gotten so fucked up you didn’t do something stupid and/or possibly criminal. The big difference here is: the risk of death is not as high for middle to upper class individuals as it is for people who do the same shit but are poor, male, mentally unwell, and/or a visible minority.

    You might not like the criticism of policing in America, but there is a problem with it. The problem is that there are better ways to engage a population, safer ways outside of deadly force. Reform doesn’t mean that we eliminate the use of deadly force, it is that it needs to become the last resort and we need to fight and make sure that when deadly force is used it is justified. Society/police need to be better, held to a higher standard than criminals, and it must be scrutinized and upheld by us. That is freedom.

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    1. Herman Bradley

      Brilliant sentiment for the criminal cause my British friend; stay true to your cause and open your loving arms to your visiting hordes of Muslim jihadist criminals and drop us a line in a couple of years and let us know how you like living under Sharia Law (where everyone is treated fairly) in the Islamic State of Britain?

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  6. Thank you so much for being a great voice of reason. I am glad that you shed some light on the “excessive shots’ and the “he was walking away”. This made plenty of sense and I will use this info as I debate family and friends at dinner tomorrow. I’m black, so surely this will be the talk of the day…

    Yes, the idea of “excessive shots” is very moot, and I think that it only has surfaced because they know that Saint Laquon had a deadly weapon.

    Not guilty.

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