Yesterday, I tweeted about Jessie Hernandez, the 17 year old who was tragically shot and killed by Denver police:
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) January 27, 2015
As an advocate against traffic violence and someone who has lost loved ones to car crashes, I was hesitant to post about the killing and am still hesitant to say that Jessie was unarmed. A motor vehicle can surely be as deadly a weapon as a gun, but it can also be merely a mode of transportation – it all depends on how it is being used.
In Jessie’s case, it was entirely unclear how it was being used – this is what struck me as utterly unjust about her killing. I shared the particular article that I did because it made this fact abundantly clear: “Denver police say it’s unclear if the girl intentionally meant to hit the officer,”
And in the same sentence, the article adds, “but (Police Chief) White said he believes his officers followed protocol.” He goes on to say that the officer’s actions were “justified.”
All reservations I had about being enraged by the killing vanished. Sure, even accidental harm caused with a motor vehicle is wrong and should be criminal, but the state response should not be to open fire into a vehicle full of people. The penalty should not be death. This should never be justified and it should absolutely not be protocol. A justification for the very existence of police is to keep peace, to keep society from descending into chaos, not to escalate an infraction into a shoot out.
For the police to admit that it was unclear if Hernandez struck the officer with intent makes it clear that the officer did not perceive her as striking him with intent. If the officer believed that Jessie struck him with intent, the police would have at least stated the officer’s belief, and they most likely would have stated it as fact. We would have heard a narrative of a sadistic driver bearing down on the officer, trying to kill him. But that is not what we heard. And that is why I posted exactly how I did:
Cops say killing #JessicaHernandez for perhaps inadvertently striking cop w/car was protocol.
And yet, something strange happened. People who clearly read the article that I shared began replying, asserting that Jessie had intentionally struck the officer, and even tried to kill him. Here are just a few examples from dozens:
@KeeganNYC she was in a stolen car trying to run the cop over. I’d shoot at the driver if that was me.
— Kelso, 892463, 0210 (@ColossusChris) January 27, 2015
— Rozilyn Dead (@rozilyndead) January 27, 2015
“Trying to run the cop over … trying to KILL ME … purposely drove it into a cop.” Again, this is how dozens of people responded to my tweet.
The cognitive dissonance is startling. Despite the fact that the police stated that it was unclear if Jessie intentionally struck the officer, they insist that she acted with intent, escalate that intent to an intent to kill, and then use this invented, murderous intent to justify responding with deadly force.
In the court of public opinion, the cop’s job has been done for him. The officer has been exonerated. The narrative that the officer was threatened, feared for his life, needed to kill or be killed, has been propagated without him speaking a word of it, in fact, with him implying otherwise.
This speaks very poorly of our ability as a society to analyze the facts of a situation and implement the changes needed to prevent similar tragedies. It’s like blaming a pedestrian for a traffic fatality when the driver is unclear if he or she had the light, or insisting that a terrorist attack was committed for a reason we have no evidence to support – it could easily justify allowing terrible ‘protocol’ to continue that will put more people’s lives in jeopardy.
In this case, not only is evidence mounting that Jessie did not strike the officer with intent, but that she was shot before she hit the officer, perhaps losing control of the vehicle from being mortally wounded:
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) January 28, 2015