Sunday, October 14, 2012

Not My World, but It Is, Gunslinger Edition

Gil Collar
I've found it hard to write on issues lately, as I was thrown for a loop when a few days back a young man, about whom I know nothing, was gunned down on an Alabama campus by a campus policeman. The student named Gil Collar, an 18-year-old freshman and wrestler at the University of South Alabama, was shot dead while "acting erratically" in front of the campus police station. Among other things, he was unarmed and completely naked. It was also reported that the student was 5' 7" tall and 135 pounds.

From reports it appeared that the student charged the policeman aggressively several different times from which the policeman retreated. At some point, rather than retreat -- or go back inside the police station to regroup -- he shot the student once in the chest, killing him.

This is, on the face of it, a senseless killing, no less senseless than the killing in September of a 40-year-old double amputee in a wheelchair in a group home for the mentally ill in Texas. Reports said that the man, a schizophrenic, had "cornered" a police officer and threatened him with a pen before a fellow officer shot him once in the head, killing him.

These events, which follow a slew of officer-involved shootings in rather disturbing circumstances in recent days, are part of a pattern of reckless behavior by police that are, more often than not, dismissed as "clean shoots." In the end, the officers are only rarely disciplined or charged.

But what made me even more disturbed than simply hearing about the tragedy of the young wrestling student were the cavalier attitudes of demonstrated by commenters on the story at Slate, an ostensibly liberal online magazine. A significant number of them defended the action -- without knowing any more details than the thin explanation of the original report, saying things like the following:
  • "Sorry folks, when a naked man does not stop for a uniformed officer, the only place to shoot him is in the chest.. First rule of self defense, shoot at the center of mass to save your own life. Any one intruding on my house be advised."
  • "I love all these internet badasses who would have used their bruce lee skills and just taken the guy down without incident. Unarmed men kill people all the time. Drugged up naked ones probably more than others. Unless we can now read minds, we don't know if the cop actually felt threatened or not."
  • "There is no such thing as not shooting to kill. If you don't shoot to kill, you will probably miss. Shooting accurately is very very difficult, even at close range. People who have never fired a gun may not realize this."
Trevis Austin
 Of course, many were shocked and wished another way were possible to subdue a small, if buff, naked man.

Later reports revealed that the officer who shot Collar, Trevis Austin, was also armed with a baton and pepper spray at the time of the shooting. Collar, for his part, had taken LSD. The videotape of the incident apparently shows that Collar never got within 4-5 feet of the officer and that the officer approached Collar with gun drawn.

I don't claim to know enough to judge the actions of officer Trevis Austin. But in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, the incident in Texas with the double amputee in a wheelchair, and -- closer to home -- the killing of a 23-year-old in Vallejo, California by a police officer who jumped on the hood of the dead man's car before emptying his service revolver through the windshield, I'm once again reminded how violent our society is and how unnecessarily dangerous it is to live in the U.S.

Police can't get a clear shot? Jump on the hood, empty clip.
Having lived overseas in both the Netherlands and Japan, I know the vast difference in how it feels to live in a safe country and how it feels to live in the U.S.

What is most disturbing about this story is the reaction by Internet commenters. Slate comments revealed that even progressive sites harbor readers who favor gun solutions to life's problems, as readers of Daily Kos did earlier this year when I posted a diary that advocated a gun ban, and the majority of CNN comments I read on the story were similar to "Maybe kids need to think more these days and situations like this wouldn;t [sic] happen," or "This guy posed a threat.  Hand to hand combat is NOT an option with someone who is obviously jacked up."

Having read a number of comments to Yahoo! news stories, I realize from the shockingly unhinged views of the readers that the Internet might not be the best place to judge the rationality of American citizens, but with a little more sampling, I suspect I'd be hard pressed to come to any other conclusion that we Americans may be left of center on social issues but mostly right of center on self-defense issues. This demonstrates that our society is held hostage by our gun culture. This does, quite frankly, sadden me greatly.

It's another reason that we should vote for people that would restrict access to guns. This process of reducing violence in our society will take longer than I'll be around, but it's worth doing nonetheless.

Gil Collar and his mom

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