Skip to main content

Last week, a 13-year-old boy named Andy was walking home carrying a toy rifle. Police seem to have mistaken him for a grown man, called for him to drop the gun. As he turned towards the squad car (I think, based on reports), police fired on him. They hit him with seven bullets, according to initial reports. Then they handcuffed him. Then they started to perform first aid. He died.

I argue that this is a case of the cult of compliance. Here's the link to my original post coining that term, but let me define it here. Can you help me improve it?

The cult of compliance - I argue that compliance has been elevated beyond other American values, such as our Fourth Amendment rights to due process. Authority figures from military leaders to beat cops and security guards, media covering authority figures and state violence, and even wide swathes of the American people believe that violence is the appropriate punishment for non-compliance.

The cult of compliance manifests most commonly in police-civilian interactions, but I argue that it has spread beyond those limited confines, such as in schools, in gender relations, in families, and anywhere else where one person believes they have formal authority over another.

We mostly observe the cult of compliance when something horrific happens, often involving a child or person with disabilities being treated as "non-compliant," and tragedy ensuing. For every one of these cases that attracts media attention, there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, that no one notices. The cult of compliance has become normal. And that's why I write about it.

Last week's killing is a good example, because it's a little complicated. Click through for media coverage (including FOX blaming the victim, naturally) and further analysis.

EDIT - Thanks for the recs. I'm informed that there's a rally planned. Details here.

Here's Fox News' coverage: "Police investigating the shooting death of a 13-year-old boy carrying a replica assault rifle said the boy was told twice by sheriff's deputies to drop the fake weapon and at one point, turned with the barrel of the gun and pointed it in their direction."

So FOX acknowledges that this was a bad result, but the boy shouldn't have pointed the fake gun at the cops, and the boy should have followed orders. If he had just complied, he'd have lived.

Meanwhile, TIME focuses on the fake gun.

The shooting is the latest in a long line of incidents of police shooting — and sometimes killing — people  whom they have mistakenly thought to be armed with a real firearm. Last year, police fatally shot a Texas eight-grader who was carrying a pellet gun that resembled a black Glock. The year before, Miami police shot and killed a 57-year old man who had a realistic replica gun after getting 911 calls about the ostensible weapon. “This is not the first time,” says Karen Caves, spokeswoman for a California state senator who has pushed stricter regulations on imitation firearms. “It happens every year.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, Santa Rosa police investigating the incident emphasized that Lopez’ airsoft gun did not have the required orange marker and public information officer Paul Henry says that the front portion had been removed. Unzipping two cases, an officer showed reporters a real AK 47-style rifle and the imitation that the teenager was carrying. “The firearm and airsoft rifle appeared remarkably similar, with matching black banana clips and brown stocks,” wrote the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “Yet in the light of the [building where the conference was held] the model Lopez carried was clearly plastic with a transparent center section.”
I found more nuanced reporting from the Christian Science Monitor.
One officer, apparently perceiving that the tip of the gun was being raised in his direction as Andy turned, opened fire. Given that the entire encounter took place in the span of 10 seconds, Andy’s friends and family are raising questions about whether overly jumpy police officers acted too rashly. Police say officers could not distinguish a toy gun that shot plastic pellets from a real one at the 30-foot range, and reacted in line with training.
I suspect that they did act in line with training. And that's the problem.
According to Sonoma County police officials investigating the shooting, the two officers – one a veteran, one a rookie – spotted a person on Tuesday afternoon wearing a hoodie and holding what appeared to be an assault rifle in his left hand. They stopped the squad car and took cover behind its doors, police said
The officers told investigators that the person appeared to raise the barrel toward the officers as he turned around. Only after approaching the body did the officers realize the truth – that it wasn’t a threatening gunman but a boy with a toy rifle
"The deputy's mind-set was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot," said Santa Rosa police Lt. Paul Henry.
We might ask why the deputy was fearful, because again, I believe it. In that context, I note the racial and clothing component. Andy Lopez seems to have been a Latino boy, dressed in a hoodie, playing with a toy gun. I cannot prove that race and clothing shaped the outcome of this event, but I'm suspicious.

There's more, though. From The Daily Mail (which revels in U.S. violence cases). First a deputy shot Lopez, perhaps in two bursts, then approached him as he bled out.

After ordering Lopez to move away from the rifle, deputies approached the unresponsive teen as he lay on the ground and handcuffed him before administering first aid and calling for medical assistance, O'Leary said.
He's literally dying and can't obey, so before they help him, they handcuff him.

So here's the question: Are we willing to ask our police to take on a little more risk in exchange for not having kids with fake guns shot. I guess I am willing to make that exchange. Bruce Schneier, a friend of mine, writes about our fear of risk as a cultural moment as his response to some of these police incidents.
We need to relearn how to recognize the trade-offs that come from risk management, especially risk from our fellow human beings.  We need to relearn how to accept risk, and even embrace it, as essential to human progress and our free society.
And he's not wrong. We do need to make the trade-off of slightly more risk to police in exchange for more safety for the rest of us. But I still feel that risk isn't the only issue here.

It's compliance.

The police tell you to do something, you do it instantly, or they will respond with force.

Until this changes, we'll keep seeing these events in the news when something tragic happens. What we won't see are the cases where the victim isn't so sympathetic. The cult of compliance rolls on.

Cross-posted and edited from my blog (updates daily) How Did We Get Into This Mess?

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

Or you could follow me on Twitter:

Originally posted to Lollardfish on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 07:25 AM PDT.

Also republished by Police Accountability Group.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

schemp, Thumb, Alfred E Newman, Alexa, Shockwave, cotterperson, Woody, MarkInSanFran, expatjourno, niemann, erinmblair, missLotus, susans, TracieLynn, Agathena, roses, bobinson, Iberian, aitchdee, psnyder, Miss Jones, pat bunny, Kentucky DeanDemocrat, gerrilea, Chirons apprentice, Sychotic1, dkmich, walkshills, Noisy Democrat, Major Kong, zerelda, side pocket, lyvwyr101, vacantlook, rmx2630, Sassy, historys mysteries, ichibon, schumann, eru, owlbear1, Dem Beans, lotlizard, Eric K, kaliope, Tool, rb608, Tunk, Shotput8, Lisa Lockwood, Born in NOLA, Knucklehead, esquimaux, SciFiGuy, cookseytalbott, kck, MJ via Chicago, Rosaura, NearlyNormal, armadillo, middleagedhousewife, onionjim, Clive all hat no horse Rodeo, Dianna, Aaa T Tudeattack, ammasdarling, john07801, Mr K, tgypsy, camlbacker, yoduuuh do or do not, wildweasels, Nick Lento, jayden, martyinsfo, Wreck Smurfy, madgranny, Assaf, fb, Aureas2, Involuntary Exile, dadadata, elwior, filby, Lujane, tofumagoo, pickandshovel, Al Fondy, WakeUpNeo, CamillesDad1, JesseCW, jmknapp53, Calfacon, Denise Oliver Velez, Keith Pickering, mahakali overdrive, jpmassar, LookingUp, BlueOak, rb137, flitedocnm, NJpeach, angelajean, mookins, Yasuragi, science nerd, Oh Mary Oh, slice, Wisdumb, misshelly, coquiero, Powell, Liberal Capitalist, slowbutsure, sostos, freesia, boomerchick, marleycat, BarackStarObama, Grandma Susie, wintergreen8694, myrmecia gulosa, bluedust, VTCC73, dradams, Mentatmark, Eowyn9, a2nite, FloridaSNMOM, Horace Boothroyd III, Mr Robert, belinda ridgewood, MartyM, wxorknot, dotdash2u, Heavy Mettle, Chaddiwicker, remembrance, naysaysME, Thornrose, alice kleeman, Alhambra, sfbaytransplant, peterfallow, ET3117, amparo fan, Kombema, richardvjohnson, Invisichad, Selphinea

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site