Opinion » Shredder

Thin blue line

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Have you noticed an increase in incidents of police shooting people—frequently unarmed people of color? 

It seems to be happening more and more frequently, or maybe the media are just covering it more, or maybe it’s about cellphone videos, or maybe it’s a combination of all three. Well, not according to Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh, who believes the real problem is that the media aren’t covering stories when the police do their job correctly.

Well clap, clap, clap. Well done, Lompoc Police Department. Way to not shoot someone unnecessarily. 

On Aug. 22, Walsh put out a press release patting himself and his department on the back for not killing an “assailant” who had “shot a family member with a high-powered pellet gun” and “threatened his family with a knife.” The man, Alberto Custodio, 32, barricaded himself in his apartment and wouldn’t come out. 

The po-po sent in a robot to look for him but couldn’t find him. Stupid useless robot. They tried phoning him. No answer. They used a bullhorn and called for him to come out in English and Spanish. Nada. Finally they tear-gassed his home, sending him into his backyard armed with “a knife and a 4-foot-long club.” 

Instead of just shooting his ass dead because—according to Walsh—“deadly force was justified,” officers shot the guy with a beanbag, Tasered him, and set police dogs on him. What, no billy club beating? No lead sapping? Just tear gas, shotgun-propelled beanbags, Tasers, and police dogs? Way to hold back, SWAT dudes! Then they arrested Custodio, who kicked an officer in the knee, the bastardo! Two police officers sustained dog bites. Bad, Fido!

I guess the Santa Maria Police Department ran out of beanbags and their Tasers were low on juice when they killed Javier Gaona, 32, on July 20 after he brandished a knife. He threatened to cut his own throat, so officers fired beanbags and tennis ball-sized rounds, but when Gaona took a step toward them, police fired 10 bullets at him, killing him. He was 20 feet from the police. Gaona’s family may sue.

So while Santa Maria PD did it that way, Lompoc PD did it another.

“This situation could have ended differently, and the Lompoc police could have joined the national discussion about police use of deadly force,” Walsh wrote. “I am thankful for the training and experience of the officers involved, and for the restraint they showed.”

Hey, me too! But isn’t this how it should go? Shouldn’t the police always try to refrain from killing perpetrators? Do you really need a pat on the back every time you do it right?

“I have to wonder,” Walsh wrote, “why don’t we tell these stories of officer restraint in the media?”

Good question! I used something called Google and quickly found seven stories about this incident from sources such as KEYT, The Lompoc Record, KSBY, and the Santa Maria Times that did indeed report how the police were able to apprehend this assailant without killing him. That’s “Google,” Chief Walsh. “G. O. O. G. L. E.” Check it out.

Walsh seems to think the media are unfair to police because we can’t stop ourselves from reporting when police kill unarmed suspects. The real problem with such shootings is they almost always go unpunished. In 2015, police killed 102 unarmed black people. In fact, 37 percent of all unarmed people killed by the police were black even though blacks make up 13 percent of the population. Only 10 of the 102 cases resulted in officers being charged with a crime, and only two of those 10 cases resulted in convictions. In case you’re counting, that’s 100 unarmed black people whom police killed with impunity in 2015.

The cops also shoot Hispanics at a rate higher than whites. It seems to some observers that simply being a minority is a crime. But according to Walsh, we just need to do a story every time the police don’t resort to murder.

Sorry, buddy, but the so-called “thin blue line”—the camaraderie between officers that apparently prevents them from holding their fellow officers accountable when they do something illegal—is the real reason there’s distrust of the police. When the public sees a video of a trigger-happy officer shooting some fleeing idiot in the back or shooting a black child holding a toy gun or choking some sap to death for selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk and getting away with it, we quickly think that the police believe they’re above the law.

Walsh went on to complain that people just stood around watching the standoff.

“At one point officers asked, ‘If shooting starts and you are in the line of fire, what are you going to do?’ The response was, ‘pull out our phones and take video,’” Walsh wrote. “We have replaced our basic instinct for self-preservation with our need to be entertained.”

Really? You think it’s about entertainment? No, it’s about keeping police accountable for their actions. We’re sick of the police killing people unnecessarily. Maybe Señor Custodio would be in the morgue instead of jail had the Lompoc Police not known they were surrounded by cellphones.

Hey, we know police work is dangerous—ranking 10th behind occupations like fishermen, loggers, roofers, and garbage collectors—but you signed up for it! You get paid for it. Your job is not to shoot suspects; it’s to apprehend them. So clap, clap, clap, Lompoc PD and Chief Walsh. Thanks for doing your job. 

The Shredder always obeys the law … except for the stupid ones. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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