The front page of the Winnipeg Free Press recently illustrated the profound lack of understanding main stream media has regarding deadly force encounters with Law Enforcement.
On Tuesday, July 19, 2016, the Winnipeg Police Service received a number of 911 calls reporting a female in traffic, wearing a mask and pointing a gun to her head, near the intersection of Portage Ave and Main Street.
(For those not familiar with the City of Winnipeg, Portage & Main is an iconic, exceedingly busy intersection.)
A total of nine (9) police units were dispatched including two from the Tactical Support Team. (SWAT)
Upon arrival, the woman removed her mask, put the gun to her head and dropped to the ground.
As officers approached, the woman stood up and began walking away while still holding the gun in her hand. One officer charged the woman and tackled her without further incident. There were no injuries reported.
The firearm was examined and proved to be a replica handgun.
A seventeen (17) year old female was arrested and charged with and number criminal offences including:
- Possession of a Weapon for a Dangerous Purpose
- Causing a Disturbance
- Public Mischief
She was detained in custody.
Deputy Chief Gord Perrier indicated it was a member of the Tactical Support Team that tackled the girl;
“They train for these types of events and they train extensively, and I think that was very lucky indeed for everyone involved.”
The officer was praised for his bravery and decisive action.
“That event could have ended very differently,” Perrier told members of the press.
He’s right, it could have.
Enter the Winnipeg Free Press.
The Free Press front page featured a picture of the girl holding the replica firearm to her head with the headline, “Guns drawn, BUT NOT FIRED.”
The headline was accentuated with a bold large cap header, in crimson red ink no less, stating;
“SHARP CONTRAST TO THE BLOODY AND VIOLENT IMAGES COMING OUT OF THE U.S.”
Notwithstanding the dramatic photograph and eye-catching font selection and colour, I ask you, is the comparison fair?
Does the showdown at Portage & Main have any correlation, directly or indirectly, to any fatal police involved shooting (s) in the United States?
Does it have any correlation to the deadly police involved shooting of Michael Brown or the recent fatal shootings of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile?
I think not.
Informed people know that every lethal force encounter must be analyzed based on its own set of unique facts or circumstances and much like fingerprints, no two police involved shootings are the same.
The headlines in the WFP demonstrate more of the same uninformed, judgemental, sensationalistic reporting police officers have experienced since the anti-police media blitz started in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.
The recent killings of Law Enforcement Officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana were the fruit born from the seeds sown during the relentless, irresponsible reporting of the Michael Brown shooting.
“Hands up, don’t shoot.”
It was a false narrative few in the media bothered to correct.
In fact, members of once thought credible news agencies found themselves caught up in the vitriol and showed the world what it looks like when journalists completely lose their objectivity.
Politicians, professional athletes, musicians, artists and vast segments of society all drank the kool-aid.
US Attorney General Eric Holder eventually had to acknowledge the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was false.
The origins of the false narrative were traced to three distinct types of witnesses identified in the Michael Brown investigation:
- witnesses who were materially inconsistent with their prior statements
- witnesses who recanted their original accounts
- witnesses who admitted they did not witness the shooting at all, despite the fact they presented themselves as eye-witnesses to the police and media.
I often wonder how many people involved in the anti-police protests ever bothered to read the investigative findings.
The report found the shooting was entirely justified.
The findings were irrefutably supported by credible eye-witness accounts and compelling forensic evidence.
(As an aside, many of the credible witnesses were either bi-racial or African-American.)
That’s correct, the genesis of the entire BLM movement was built on a lie.
Unfortunately, the lessons learned from Ferguson are quickly forgotten with every iPhone capture of a police involved deadly force encounter.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton instantly blamed the death of Philando Castile on racial bias and suggested the officer involved used a level of force “way in excess” of what was necessary.
“Would this have happened if the driver and passenger were white, I don’t think it would have,” Dayton said in a press conference.
The story continues to evolve.
US Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton recently mentioned the Sterling and Castile cases in the context of the need for meaningful criminal consequences for police officers involved in deadly force encounters.
Irresponsible commentary given that both cases are currently under investigation.
That brings us back to the Free Press.
Connecting the non-lethal encounter at Portage & Main with police involved shootings in the United States is entirely irresponsible and unfair.
The inferred criticism alters the public perception of these events and encourages judgment and continued hostility towards American police officers.
The inference is obvious – if Canadian Police Officers can disarm a gun wielding individual without using deadly force then so should our American counterparts. If American Police Officers are killing people in such encounters its logical to conclude they must be using excessive force.
The reality bears no resemblance to the inference.
Lucky to be Alive
The truth is, the young lady with the replica firearm is extremely lucky to be alive.
There is no doubt she presented a deadly threat to the police officers and members of the public in the vicinity of the encounter. The replica firearm would have been correctly perceived as being real and the essential requirements that constitute a deadly threat were present.
There are a number of reasons why police did not use deadly force in this situation.
It’s clear from the video this young woman was having a mental health crisis. The officer’s perception of the event would have been influenced by the fact the woman was holding the gun to her head and was not overtly hostile towards police.
This reduces the perception the woman intended to do harm to the officers but in no way reduced the danger the officers faced.
It’s often said there is an extremely fine line between suicide and homicide.
The officers were undoubtedly aware of that reality.
The Use of Deadly Force
In order to use justifiable deadly force a Canadian police officer must have reasonable grounds to believe the officer, or anyone under the officer’s protection, is in danger of suffering death or grievous bodily harm.
Law Enforcement south of the border have a similar standard.
Just prior to her arrest, the young woman inexplicably laid on the roadway.
This move provided the officers the opportunity to safely close distance while assessing the dynamic situation.
During the approach an officer made the decision to close the gap.
It was a courageous move.
The woman reacted by attempting to flee.
This was the most dangerous phase of the confrontation. The officer closed ground quickly and the woman turned to face him. If the firearm was real, it was at this point the officer faced extremely grave danger. If she raised the gun to shoot the ending may have been tragic for the officer.
When it comes to action vs re-action, police officers know action usually wins.
Luckily, the gun wasn’t real and the young woman never levelled it at the officer in a “suicide by cop” attempt.
The officer managed to tackle the girl, take her to the ground and arrest her without incident.
Had she raised the gun, real or not, there may have been a vastly different outcome.
It was a judgement call.
The officer acted decisively and demonstrated bravery.
I expect his physical ability, training and experience as a Tactical Team Officer contributed to his decision-making process.
We can celebrate the result but in no way should we realistically expect police officers to deal with subjects armed with a firearm with a less than lethal response.
That would be suicide in the majority of incidents, save for an exceptional case like this one.
That’s precisely why the WFP front page headlines are so inappropriate.
We should not expect police officers to unnecessarily risk their lives during these kinds of encounters.
The Free Press could have seized the opportunity to educate their readers regarding the statistical probability of encounters like this one ending with a positive outcome for the police or the perpetrator.
They could have tried to create a better understanding of issues concerning police use of deadly force.
Instead, they chose to make a ridiculous high-handed comparison to U.S. Law Enforcement.
By doing so, they join a wide array of main stream media outlets who, intentionally or not, promote anger, misunderstanding and hostility towards Law Enforcement Officers.
In the wake of the tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge the press might want to reconsider how they report these incidents.