Saturday, July 13, 2013

Police shootings always a complex matter; just like the rest of life

I have to admit to sighing when I first learned of the incident this week in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood where Chicago Police officers shot an off-duty firefighter.

Because on the surface, the officers shot at an unarmed man when they mistook his wallet for a firearm of some sorts.

BUT LIFE IS never that simple, and I suspect that when this investigation is complete, these officers are going to be found to have conducted themselves professionally – although I’m sure in firehouses across the city, jokes about donut-stuffed cops who can’t tell the difference between a wallet and a Tech 9 are being told.

The incident in question, which is one of the most unusual police shootings I ever have heard of, occurred in one of those “cop enclave” neighborhoods at the far southwestern edge of the city – one of those places populated by police and firefighters and other city workers who have to live within the municipal boundaries even though they’d probably prefer to live just a few blocks further south in a suburban community.

Which is also one of those places where shootings just don’t happen – which also adds to the “bizarre” factor of this whole incident. As if “cop shooting firefighter” wasn’t weird enough.

For it seems the wife of the firefighter had called 9-1-1 after he called her and told her he “couldn’t take it anymore.” She took that as evidence he was suicidal – hence, her call to emergency services to inform the police.

SO WHEN POLICE encountered him in the area around 103rd Street and Pulaski Road and they saw him with a black object in his hands while in a crouching position, they presumed the worst.

They defended themselves, according to the Fraternal Order of Police. Although I’m sure certain others will not want to believe that.

None of this particular commentary ought to be interpreted as trying to shift blame on the firefighter – who according to news reports has been with the Chicago Fire Department for about two full decades and was also trained as a paramedic. It is more one of those tragic incidents in which there probably is no “good guy” and trying to come up with blame is pointless.

Because everybody manages to share some form of blame for what happened. At this point, what we all ought to be focusing on is the physical well-being of the firefighter – who on Friday remained in critical condition at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

WE SHOULD BE hoping that he manages to recover from his wounds; both the physical ones he received Thursday and the emotional ones his wife thinks he has been suffering from for some time.

And as for the police involvement in this? If my attitude toward law enforcement opening gunfire on an unarmed man (it seems the pistol he owns was at home, and not on him) comes across as nonchalant, perhaps it is because of being a reporter-type person for some 26 years.

I have always thought of police officers as being people no better or smarter than the rest of us – but who take on a risky job in which people can get killed when they screw up. In short, their “bad days” are worse than those of you or me. There’s also the fact that we give police deadly weapons because we anticipate times when they will have to use them.

So while I fully sympathize with an injured firefighter whose wounds have an element of stupidity behind them, I’m also not going to be surprised if some sort of official investigation ultimately determines this particular incident to be “justified” use of force.


No comments: