Fifty-three years ago today, — one day after the start of the Children’s Crusade marches, — black youth were in the streets in Birmingham to march on City Hall and protest Jim Crow in one of the best-known protest marches in American history. They stood up against Mayor Art Haynes and Public Safety Commissioner Eugene Connor and his police and his fire department and the whole violent system of Jim Crow. They filled the jails and they kept marching. Desperate, Bull Connor ordered police and firemen to turn police dogs and water cannons on the kids in the street.
In the end, the kids in the street won, and the white power establishment, the segregationist politicians and the Public Safety Commissioners and the police lost.
This photograph is from Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama, May 3, 1963. It was taken by Bob Adelman.
The headline is more predictable than Dog Bites Man. If you programmed a Police Shooting Response robot that took police shooting reports as input and produced a claim of justification 100% of the time, only filling in the blanks with facts taken from the input and not adjusting the template in the slightest, you’d get the same headlines that you actually get from local police statements. Based on the extremely limited information that has been released so far, it’s possible that the police went overboard even by their own standards; it’s also perfectly possible that when the dash cam and body cam footage is released, it will turn out that the killing meets the police’s internal standards for justification — but if so, the police standards themselves are the problem. We don’t know how much police officers knew about how she was armed. The weapon that La Jura keeps talking about, always as a quote-unquote weapon without further clarification, was actually a small knife. Melissa’s parents and their lawyer say that they told the 911 dispatch that she had a knife; police claim that when she got out of the car they didn’t know what weapon she had in her hand. It may be that she brandished the knife in a way that would meet the police’s policies for using lethal force against her. But if so, then morally I think the problem with police procedures is that they take no real account of who initiated the confrontation, who escalated it, what other less-forceful options were available. We have here a case in which police pursued a woman who had committed no crime, followed her car for miles out of their own jurisdiction and into Macon County, cornered her when they were told she was upset and panicked and lightly armed, and then shot her to death when, they claim, she charged them. For ordinary people like you or me, a claim of self-defense requires that someone else is the aggressor; but police standards never take that into account.
Stories on the police shooting, what the police claim they knew, and what the family says they know about what happened, have appeared in the Huntsville Times (April 4), the Montgomery Advertiser (April 5), and The World According to Vladimir Putin (April 5). According to the Opelika-Auburn News (April 7), the family was desperately trying to reach Melissa’s car on the highway but the police cornered her and shot her before they could arrive; the OA News story also reports that there is both dash cam footage and body cam footage of the confrontation and the shooting. But the footage was given to the Alabama SBI, so that state police can investigate local police, and will not be released to the public until or unless the Macon County District Attorney decides that it should be. (The Macon County DA is putatively in charge of this decision because Auburn police followed her out of Auburn and pursued her on the highway into Macon County, where they shot her.)
Auburn police shot and killed a woman yesterday afternoon just off of I-85. Her name was Melissa Boarts; she was a 36 year old woman from Montgomery. They were chasing her because they got vague reports over the wire that she might be suicidal. So they chased her car for miles, followed her out into Macon County. Then when she stopped they got out and confonted her, and then they killed her.
Auburn police disclosed today that two cops shot at her; they claim that she had a gun and she charged the officers in a threatening manner when the cops came out to confront her.
Dozens of concerned citizens from all areas of Opelika filled the pews at St. James Missionary Baptist Church Monday evening to discuss an officer-involved shooting that occurred on Oct. 31, claiming the life of 56-year-old Bennie Lee Tignor, and to demand answers to questions posed by community members skeptical of information supplied by law enforcement.
Leading the conversation was St. James Missionary Baptist Church pastor and long-time Opelika politician District 83 Rep. George Bandy, who consistently called into question the transparency of the Opelika Police Department and the City of Opelika.
“There’s some questions that I’m raising here tonight, and a statement that I’m trying to make,” he said. “When people ask for information, I go ahead and call the mayor or chief of police and they tell me that it’s been turned over to the SBI, the State Bureau of Investigations and so, therefore, they don’t have any information that they can give out.”
Bandy said he was unsure if any city leaders have seen footage of the dash cam recording of the shooting, but he feels, as an elected official, that it would have been beneficial to have had access to it to communicate its contents to his constituents.
“It would’ve been a great thing if we could’ve looked at the dash cam and we could’ve come out here tonight and told the people that what (the OPD) is saying is the truth. But we can’t do that,” he said, adding he requested to see the video but was turned down by the SBI due to the status of the open investigation.
Information he’s received from the two alleged eyewitnesses, Tignor’s girlfriend Betty Denson and her daughter, Shikeria Ligon, he said, doesn’t match up with that provided by the OPD.
“The information that we’ve gotten from the two eyewitnesses is that there was no gun seen. So the dash cam needs to show a gun,” he said. “(Officer Jared Greer’s) word, I don’t think, should be good enough.”
Normally, people who write newspaper headlines are notorious for removing any word that they could possibly cut — often paring away so many words that they leave ambiguous or utterly cryptic headlines.Not always, though:
Sometimes, an officer is involved. Ever notice how far a newspaper writer will go, when an officer is involved, just to avoid writing Police killed a man in so many words?
Here’s the story to go with the headline:
Metro Police are investigating a deadly officer-involved shooting Sunday morning near Buffalo and Alta Drives.
According to police, the incident was a neighbor dispute with possible shots fired on the 7000 block of Palmdale Avenue. SWAT teams were called out to assist as the barricaded male suspect was shot and transported to University Medical Center where he died of his injuries.
“At some point the individual came out carrying a rifle. Our hostage negotiators asked a number of times for the subject to put down the rifle and at some point raised the rifle in their direction, ” Metro Capt. Matt McCarthy said. Several of our officers fired on our subject to stop the threat and the subject went down.”