© Josh Sager – January 2014
At 12:48 on January 5th, a police officer working for the Boiling Spring (North Carolina) police department executed an 18-year old schizophrenic named Keith Vidal. I refer to this shooting as an execution because witnesses say that Vidal was being held down on the ground by two police officers, when a third officer fatally shot Vidal at short range.
This entire incident started less than an hour before the shooting, when Vidal started to have a schizophrenic break at the family home. As things escalated, Vidal became agitated and started to brandish a small screwdriver, thus his family called the police to assist them in controlling him.
At 12:34, the police arrived on scene to find Vidal holding the screwdriver—in order to disable him, they tased him several times and two of the police began to physically hold him to the ground. As Vidal only weighed 90lbs, it was easy for the police to restrain him (particularly after several taser shocks).
By 12:48, Vidal had been tased and was being restrained by two of the three officers, when the third officer walked up, drew his gun, and fired a single shot between his fellow officers, killing Vidal instantly. According to witnesses, this officer exclaimed “we don’t have time for this” immediately before shooting the 18-year old.
While the identities of the officers are being held back in this case, it has been reported that all three officers are on paid administrative leave and that none of them have had criminal charges filed against them.
Execution for Expedience
In the Vidal shooting, the police officers involved appear to have two levels of culpability:
On the lower level of culpability, the police who were holding the teen may have acted overzealously by tasing him, even when his parents wanted some more time to talk him down. These officers clearly need some additional training in the proper use of tasers—specifically just how dangerous it is to administer multiple shocks to a 90lb suspect—and the proper methods of deescalating situations involving mentally ill suspects, but they likely did not commit a crime.
On the upper level of culpability, the officer who shot Vidal is very likely guilty of premeditated murder. Vidal was a teenager who weighed less than 100lbs and was being held down by two officers after being tased—no reasonable person could have seen him as a threat, never mind a threat that justified a bullet to the head from point-blank range.
Police are allowed to use their weapons to defend themselves in dangerous situations, but they are not allowed to shoot random people when their lives aren’t threatened. Vidal didn’t have a gun and was already on the ground, thus there was no legal justification for the officer to fire a lethal (or even non-lethal or warning) shot.
Beyond the extreme and unjustified use of lethal force, the shooter fired between two fellow officers in a way that puts their lives in jeopardy; if one of the officers had moved at the last minute, they could easily have been killed.
Finally, the fact that the officer said “we don’t have time for this” while shooting the teen gives us a view into his state of mind. The officer shot Vidal because he apparently had better things to do than help deescalate a schizophrenic, thus he decided to save a little time by simply shooting the disturbed teen.
While the FBI is investigating this situation, local police appear to not be considering this a criminal case—the officers involved aren’t even losing out on pay, because they are on paid leave.
Police Murders in the USA
Unfortunately, this unjustifiable police shooting and the lack of justice for the shooter are in no way unique. American police are infamous for shooting huge numbers of rounds at suspects and being extremely quick to draw their weapons.
Note – Obviously, there are many police officers in the USA who never even draw their guns, thus saying that all police fit this violent mold is an unfair stereotype. That said, American police have their reputation for a reason, as many have overreacted in some extremely public and gruesome manners – Note
Here are a few recent examples of American police violence:
- In February 2013, the LAPD opened fire, without warning, on two unarmed women driving a Toyota Tacoma because they were driving the same type of vehicle that Christopher Dorner (who was wanted for several murders) was suspected to be driving.
- In February 2012, NYPD officers tased and fatally shot an elderly veteran when his medic alert bracelet triggered and they were dispatched to help him. Instead of helping the man, officers pounded on the door and yelled “I don’t give an f**k n****r, open the door,” before breaking it down with drawn guns.
- In September 2013, Charlotte, NC, police killed an unarmed man who was looking for help after his car crashed—the officers tased and shot the man multiple times, despite the fact that that there was no justification for force.
Put simply, these three examples only illustrate the very tip of the iceberg. American police are faster to draw and more likely to empty their magazines than the police of most western countries. To put the speed and vigor at which American police fire their weapons on suspects into perspective, we need only compare American police officer’ shooting rates with the police of other developed countries.
For example: During the entire year of 2011, German police fired 85 rounds, 49 of which were warning shots, and only 15 of which actually hit a suspect. In comparison, eight LAPD officers shot over 90 rounds at a single unarmed suspect during a car chase in April 2012.
Trigger-happy police in the USA give police, as a whole, a bad name and many people are (justifiably) afraid of our law enforcers.
If American police want to be seen by the public to be protectors rather than dangers to society (or, at worst, executioners), then they must get a handle on their more violent fellows. Such reform is a win-win situation, as it would allow the police to operate more effectively and with better cooperation from the community, while ensuring that innocent people are no longer shot by police.
Officers must be trained to talk suspects down and to only escalate to the minimum force required to subdue the individual—when talking doesn’t work, non-lethal weapons should be SPARINGLY applied, and if that doesn’t work, a warning shot should be delivered into the ground. Only after everything else has been tried should police officers escalate to lethal force.
Police officers to draw weapons on unarmed citizens for no good reason should be immediately fired and charged with the relevant crimes.