Only a couple of weeks after the Ferguson shooting, and only about three miles away, St. Louis police shot and killed another black man, Kajieme Powell, after he apparently shoplifted from a convenience store. The details of what happened in Ferguson are in dispute, which has allowed the law and order crowd to defend putting six bullets into unarmed Mike Brown – two into his head – as a proportional act of self-defense.
No such ambiguity exists in the Powell case. The police released cellphone video yesterday, and it is absolutely chilling. Powell emerges from the convenience store with a pair of canned drinks. He seems a little confused – puts them down, paces around, and so on. Then the police show up in a white SUV, and jump out, guns drawn (already! They decide to escalate before even arriving at the scene). Powell backs away, says “just shoot me” a couple of times, climbs up on a retaining wall, takes a couple of steps in the direction of the police… and then they shoot him dead. Total time between the police arrival and his death? About 15 seconds.
The video, of course, completely contradicts the police department’s story about a drawn knife and aggression on Powell’s part. When confronted with the contradiction, the police chief replied that “in a lethal situation, they used lethal force.” The only thing harder to understand from that video clip than why killing Powell was justified by the situation is how anyone can continue to deny that the problem is structural. I am not accusing the officers or the police chief of lying. It’s much, much worse than that: I’d be pretty sure they really did think their lives were in immediate danger.