The Ghetto Lottery
(This is a follow up to 5 Cops, 90 Gunshots, 1 Unarmed Man).
A reader contacted me with pertinent information regarding my previous post about the LCPD shooting of Jonathan Strickland. Strickland was shot at, according to his lawyer, ninety times by LCPD officers as he sat unarmed in the cab of his pickup truck. That incident prompted three questions in my mind: (1) Why did the officers fire that many shots at an unarmed man?; (2) What was Strickland referencing when he stated on video at the hospital that he "acted" like he had a gun?; (3) Which officer fired first?
To say the least, it is highly unusual for police to shoot at a suspect 90 times, even in a situation where the suspect is actually armed with a firearm. Generally, they go down or flee before that many shots can be discharged. I am also told now that, allegedly, there were well over 100 rounds fired at Strickland. I do not know where his lawyer got the information regarding the number of shots fired, but if this case goes to deposition and all officers and those who investigated are interviewed, a more probable number will, hopefully, be made public.
When an LCPD officer rammed Strickland's pickup truck at the intersection of Hadley and Campo on March 11, 2021, after a brief pursuit, it spun around and he ended up facing the five officers pursuing. They brought their units to a stop in a sort of semi-circle, a small arc, and four of the officers bailed from their units. One officer remained in his patrol unit and armed himself with an AR-15. Officers were taking positions for the felony stop when, allegedly, Strickland grabbed his cell phone and held it up in both hands as if it were a firearm and "pointed" it at the officers.
The officer who remained in his patrol car allegedly fired first. He shot his AR-15 rifle through his own windshield at Strickland, who was still seated in his truck. Again, allegedly, the other officers were startled by the eruption of gun fire and saw the windshield of their fellow officer's patrol car disintegrate. Thinking they were under fire, and not realizing the damage was coming from the inside out, they immediately unleashed a barrage of firepower at Strickland.
We can divide this issue into two camps: the first one asks that with five officers having five different viewpoints should one of them have noticed that Strickland was holding NOT a gun but a cellphone? The response to that is what the second camp would say, which is if you hold a dark object in your hand(s) like it is a firearm and point it at the cops, you get what you deserve.
At night, in low light conditions and in a confrontational situation where emotions are high, adrenaline is flowing, tunnel vision has set in and the officers believe the suspect is armed based on statements of the victim (Strickland's wife), a cellphone could conceivably appear to be a firearm. But this took place in daylight hours, with lots of sunshine. Good lighting should make a difference, but not necessarily so because of the dynamics of the situation and it was only a matter of seconds after the stop that gunfire erupted.
Reportedly, two officers had AR-15 rifles. At least one of them exhausted his magazine, reloaded, and fired some more. Allegedly, at least one other officer shot a full magazine from his pistol, reloaded, and continued firing.
I have to guess that Strickland, by about the time the rounds were demolishing his windshield, i.e., within a second or two, hunkered down and tried to shield himself from the wall of lead coming at him. I say that just because it would be a position any human being would assume in the hopes of living. He was hit twelve times, according to his lawyer, but I do not know if those were whole bullets, fragments of bullets, or metal and glass from the vehicle, or a combination thereof. The surgeon's report should cover that.
So now I have a better understanding of why the officers fired, but that also brings up another issue: how many shots have to be fired at a suspect before someone has the presence of mind to say "cease fire" and see if the poor bastard wants to surrender? I mean, the cacophony of noise alone from that barrage would exclude any possibility of hearing him yell out "I give up!" And the windshield is demolished, so it's not like any of the officers could see into the vehicle anyway. Was it absolutely necessary for the one officer to shoot through the windshield of his patrol car? Was it absolutely necessary for officers to exhaust all the rounds in a magazine, reload, and shoot more?
I don't have the answers, but I do know it lends ammunition (pun intended) to a lawsuit claim of excessive force.
I titled this blog The Ghetto Lottery because in pop culture it is an expression which Wiktionary defines as "a financial windfall obtainable by a socioeconomically disadvantaged person." There are other, cruder, definitions online but I'll go with this one because it is the cleanest version. It basically characterizes a person who engages in egregious conduct in the presence of law enforcement in the hopes of being shot, but hopes to live and collect a substantial payout through a lawsuit.
Was Strickland playing the ghetto lottery that day? Was it suicide by cop? Only he can answer that. I'm sure by now his lawyers have asked him why he held a cell phone in his hands and pointed it at the police in the same manner one would point a handgun. We can't know the answer to that, of course, but we do know that Strickland's lawyer is saying the only reason his client was shot at was because he is black. There is no surprise in that allegation, it is standard fare for the era in which we live where accusations of racism can be made against another without proof or evidence. My skin color is different from yours, so regardless of my actions or provocations that makes me a victim.
This happened two years ago. At no time has the chief of LCPD informed the public about the number of rounds his officers discharged at Strickland, why they shot, and what, if any, discipline or changes in policy were addressed in the aftermath. Apparently, transparency is a word in the dictionary but not one the current LCPD administration can define.