Another police shooting in the Baltimore area has activists protesting again — but do they have a case? A young mother confronted police with a shotgun after they attempted to serve warrants for her and a man in the same residence. Police claim to have engaged in hours-long negotiations to resolve the standoff, but a gun battle ensued and Korryn Gaines died on scene. Her five-year-old son was wounded in the exchange, The Guardian reports:
A black woman who was holding her five-year-old son was shot and killed by police in Randallstown, Maryland, on Monday afternoon after an extended standoff.
The 23-year-old Korryn Gaines allegedly pointed a shotgun at officers and said: “If you don’t leave, I’m going to kill you.” Authorities said that officers then fired and Gaines returned fire, but did not strike any police. The five-year-old boy injured a limb during the firefight but it was not initially clear whether bullets from police or Gaines struck him. The injuries were not believed to be life-threatening. …
One officer got a key from the landlord and opened the apartment after no one responded to repeated knocks. The officer saw Gaines sitting on the floor, pointing the gun at him, police said. The officers retreated to the hallway, and a man ran from the apartment with a one-year-old boy, authorities said. That man was arrested.
Police said that negotiators tried to talk with Gaines and that she repeatedly refused to surrender. Authorities said that as of this morning they did not know whether any of the officers involved were wearing body cameras.
Baltimore County police held a press conference after the shooting to explain the situation:
This Instagram video was supposedly taken by Gaines (according to the Guardian) during the standoff. The caption suggests that Gaines wanted to keep police from claiming that she was using the child as a shield. The five-year-old does not appear frightened at this point, and seems to think that his mother was playing a game with him. However, the video makes clear that police were attempting to get Gaines to cooperate rather than simply going in shooting:
Another video of the encounter from Gaines, posted by Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, also tends to show that the police wanted a peaceful outcome. Note that the muzzle of the weapon is pointed away from Gaines, and the officer is not making any aggressive movements (via Twitchy):
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) August 2, 2016
This doesn’t look like a police force acting irrationally to provoke a shootout. Still, as Wesley Lowery points out at the Washington Post, the case has already generated social-media outrage:
The shooting of Gaines and her son — who police say had non-life-threatening injuries — quickly prompted national outrage among activists who have protested police killings in recent years. …
Gaines is the ninth black woman shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to a Washington Post database tracking fatal police shootings — a number set to soon surpass 2015, when a total of 10 black women were shot and killed by police.
Even though all but two of the women were armed, family members, activists and videos have raised questions in nearly all of the cases about whether the women were attacking officers when they were killed. Still, before Gaines, none of the black women killed by police this year had gained sustained national attention.
Taking what we have at the moment under consideration, this seems a poor case for that kind of attention. According to the police account, they spent almost six hours trying to get Gaines to surrender; Gaines’ video corroborates that, at least in part. Nor was this a random law-enforcement event, such as stopping a driver for questionable reasons, as might be the case with Philando Castile; they were serving two lawful warrants and had these two suspects specifically in mind. Gaines’ own video shows that neither she nor the child were in a state of panic or horror; he’s calm, and Gaines sounds defiant, while the voices from the hall sound engaging rather than threatening.
Of course, there will be more investigation to come, and it will be interesting to see what if anything can be gleaned from the body cameras. But if Gaines did point a shotgun at officers and declared she would kill them if they entered the residence under a valid warrant after hours of negotiation, then police had every right to protect themselves with lethal force while enforcing the warrant.
This doesn’t look like a case of racial disparity, but a series of extremely poor choices by Gaines that put her son and herself in a lethal situation she could have easily avoided — for almost six hours. That’s stupidity, not an outrage, if that explanation is corroborated by the facts. But we should wait for those facts to be definitively established before closing our minds.