Jack Collins walked out of the bathroom in Hoyt Arboretum all bloody, holding an X-acto knife. In seeing this come at him in surprise, Officer Jason Walters says, "I was just totally surprised 'cause I didn't expect a bloody guy holding a knife to open the door, and it took a second, a moment to really register what was going on." Walters had no back up there, and he ruled out the use of pepper spray, his baton or Taser. So he shot Jack four times, and Jack was left to bleed to death.
Dehumanization of a kind of person-- like the homeless Jack Collins-- leads to people deciding that they should not be treated as a real person, but as an immediate threat. There was no real threat to Officer Walters. I have been in a similar situation myself, facing down a person holding a knife. I had no gun, no baton, no Taser. I just went right up to the person and talked to him, in gentleness. There are only two differences between Officer Walters and me: I was not afraid, and I did not have a gun to enact against any fear I might have.
I don't want you to think that I am trying to demean Officer Walters. He reacted as he has been trained to react, and he did so rightly. He yelled at Mr. Collins a number of times to drop the knife and Mr. Collins did not. His training tells him to shoot anyone with a weapon who could have been a danger to himself or others. So Mr. Collins was shot. No, my fault is with the system.
What kind of a system trains officers to shoot instead of using other options. Officer Walters, if he felt that he was endangered, could have backed up-- as Mr. Collins was in no condition to move quickly-- and used his Taser from a safe distance. The officer could have called for backup and waited until it arrived. Instead, he used force that was dangerous. Mr. Collins was near the door of the Arboretum-- if the officer had missed, he could have shot an innocent person by accident. But his training told him to shoot and so he did. This training is irresponsible.
The other indictment of the system I have is connected to another case involving a homeless person and a police officer. In that case, the police officer was also startled and afraid, according to his testimony, and so he tased a woman half his size four times, after she was clearly subdued. Fear is the emotion that most readily leads to violence-- not anger. Fear makes one want to protect oneself or others, and would use whatever means necessary to quench the object of one's fear.
If police officers are so afraid of small women or people who are already injured, then what else are they afraid of? Black people? Perhaps homeless people in general? God forbid that these fearful officers actually deal with a gang or any group of teenage males. It is a matter of public safety to take police officers who are fearful of non-lethal situations and get them off the street. If an officer is startled so easily as to shoot someone in a situation in which they are "startled" then that officer is too easily trigger happy to be in the public interest.
If an officer is fearful, perhaps they should stay in the office, doing paperwork. Life is scary, and police work takes courage. Let the brave ones, who won't hide behind a gun, but work toward peace, do the street work.
About the shooting of Jack Collins: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/04/grand_jury_transcript_hoyt_arb.html
About the tasing of Mary McGuire: http://www.nowheretolayhishead.org/fearofthehomeless.html