The video below shows a listless 39-year-old Brian Harris, a black man lying in his own bed in his own home. He's holding a pocket knife. The police yell at him to put down the knife. In a stupor and still reclined, Harris says that he will not put it down. He makes no move toward the officers as he holds the knife and remains reclined. Nonetheless, they shock him with Taser guns twice, and later they shoot him to death.
The police went to Harris's home because his wife, Tyralyn Harris, called 911 on the night of Friday, April 9, for assistance. Her husband had locked himself in the bedroom and taken sleeping pills, report sources. NOLA.com quotes the wife's 911 call from that night:
"I don't think he want to live no more. I need somebody to come help him. ... He told me to take the children away from here."In a 2010 interview, his wife said that she only wanted them to talk to her husband and didn't know why the police showed up with assault weapons. The police said then that they felt threatened by the husband. Looking at the video, however, considering the number of police officers in the room, Harris's sedated demeanor and that he remained reclined and didn't really look at them while holding the pocket knife, and seeing that the police had guns, I wonder how it is that they thought he endangered them enough for them to shoot him to death?
Not surprisingly, the family filed a wrongful death suit against the NOPD, but last week, on Good Friday, March 29, Judge Sandra Vance, calling the use of deadly force "objectively reasonable," dismissed the case. Apparently there's more to the video and we don't have the actual shooting for public view, but she said that Harris moved toward the police and given the small space, they had reason to fatally shoot him. However, the judge also said, ". . . the court finds NOPD's whole approach to this type of situation troubling." She said "controlling law" forced her to rule as she did.
I have a friend, a young white woman, who experienced depression last year, and when she told a counselor that she was suicidal and did not know how to reach anyone she could call to come pick her up, the police showed up instead. They handcuffed her and took her to a facility. Fortunately for her, she didn't resist or appear to have a weapon or she may have ended up in the morgue, at least that's how this video makes me feel: That all of us should be afraid of the NOPD due to their lack of sufficient professional training. Why doesn't the city have a better procedure for handling people in mental distress?
I ask that question and so do many others commenting on the story at NOLA.com. One young woman under the screenname Beautiful Mind wrote:
I wish NOPD would participate in CIT training. CIT began with the Memphis TN PD when an officer killed a mentally ill man. The Crisis Intervention Team program is a community effort enjoining both the police and the community together for common goals of safety, understanding, and service to the mentally ill and their families. It is to these goals the Memphis Police Department stands committed.She continues her comment to say that the police should seek a win-win situation in these types of situations. I agree. (Read about Memphis CIT program at this link.)
I know we live in a dangerous city and many of our men and women in blue are dedicated servants who put their lives in danger for the sake of our safety each day. It troubles me that I cannot always support the actions our police force. I have learned rather that I must question their actions, always question whether they act to protect and serve. What ever happened to Officer Friendly? Is it possible to have an Officer Compassion in New Orleans?
The way the NOPD mishandled Brian Harris's case, as well as the way they've mishandled some others in which actual criminals were involved, makes me inclined to doubt that their intentions are mostly good. And that doubt is the sign of crippled city. That doubt brings about an unsettling grief. I love New Orleans, but I grieve for her, too, often.
Madness and Reality also talks about this story under "Post Racial Update" and Field Negro under "Post Racial Blues." Ms. Lady Deborah's blogged it, too at From My Brown Eyed View.