Update: Scroll to bottom for a discussion of victim's intent. Was Powell sending a message, or was it just another "suicide by cop"?Another police killing of an African American has occurred. Caught on camera by a bystander (see video below the fold), apparently the man, identified as Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old, had gone into a convenience market, deliberately took two cans of soda, walked out without paying for them, proceeded to set the two cans symbolically down on the sidewalk, and waited for police to come, as if having planned and predicted the entire sequence of events.
The police soon arrived, and Powell approached them, telling them to shoot him. And without the slightest hesitation, they did, firing nine shots in rapid succession into Powell at close range, several of the shots occurring after he had already fallen to the ground. Then they had the audacity to cuff him, ridiculously acting as if a man with nine bullets in him, who for all the world looked dead or unconscious on the ground, was still a threat. It was all over within seconds of their arrival on the scene.
Powell's actions looked to me to be a deliberate, symbolic protest of police, clearly intended to induce a replay similar to the events which had recently occurred with Michael Brown, who had been shot while surrendering with arms raised, allegedly minutes after taking cigarillos from a nearby store. And the police behaved exactly as Powell expected they would.
Powell allegedly had a knife, although one is not visible in the video, and his arms were not raised in aggression, and he was not brandishing any weapon in a threatening manner. They could have easily backed away 30 paces, deescalated the situation, talked him down. They could have tasered him (or maybe not), or any other number of nonlethal methods. No, in my mind this was murder. We expect more from police. We expect professionalism. We expect them to think before acting.
The police, in an earlier press conference, before the revealing video had been released, had clearly lied about Powell having allegedly threatened the shooting officers with a knife in an "overhand grip". In the video, Powell's hands are at his side, with no overhand motion. No object is visible in his hands. Powell seemed to be expecting to be shot with minimal effort, and his motions were slow and non-threatening, simply moving toward the police, reflecting what he thought would be sufficient to provoke an overreaction by the police.
The striking implications of the new police killing seems to be that cops in the St. Louis area are so reliably prone to shoot Black people with the slightest provocation, that anyone can elicit a reenactment of the Brown incident by simply arranging the same pieces on the chessboard all over again. And the police obligingly cooperated by willingly playing their part, firing nine lead bullets into Powell, completing the events as if a planned theatrical drama, as if performance art. But sadly, this is not art, but tragically real, and now another man is dead from the eagerness of police to kill anyone who presents even the slightest opportunity.
I've read that a tweet apparently claims Powell's mother recently died. Others say he was acting erratically, and assume he was disturbed. Ezra Klein remarked that he might be mentally ill. Perhaps all this is true. But why is he cast this way before this is known as a fact? Why wouldn't Blacks be understandably driven to extreme levels of distress over what has occurred, over how they have been treated over the many decades which have led to these recent atrocities? Why isn't it immediately perceived as a statement of protest of the peril that Blacks live with on a daily basis? Was he mentally ill, or was he understandably distraught over how Blacks are treated in his community? Or was it, perhaps, a combination of these possibilities?
Whatever else this is, it is obviously a protest against the police. He didn't have to end his life using this particular avenue. He could have chosen any one of other methods to commit suicide, if that was his intent. Powell meant this to be a statement. Let's not allow his act to be in vain.
In my mind, regardless of the aggregate of motivations that were in Powell's mind, it is a potent commentary on how easy any black youth can be murdered in cold blood, on any street corner, and so reliably predictable that it was easily orchestrated by a person who was willing to end his life to make the point.
Is this any different, really, than Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest war? Few would debase their noble sacrifice as mental illness. Powell's act, whatever else it may prove to be, is powerful symbolism of Black experience, of a police force gone wild, and the deeply systemic racism that exists in institutions of authority in the United States.
I fear for the safety of people in the St. Louis area tonight and in the days to come. I really don't know what else to say. This has left me speechless. I have no words.
Missouri state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, during an interview with Amy Goodman on today's Democracy Now, commented about Black young men, and how outraged they are about the shooting of Brown:
"A lot of young men, they're willing to die for justice".
"On Sunday night, right after the killing of Michael Brown, I was between police officers and people who were willing to die."
St. Louis Police Release Video Of Kajieme Powell Killing That Appears At Odds With Their Story
[N]ewly released cell phone footage undermines the statement, showing Powell approaching the cops, but not coming as close as was reported, with his hands at his side. The officers began shooting within 15 seconds of their arrival, hitting Powell with a barrage of bullets.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department released the video and 911 calls, telling St. Louis Public Radio that it plans to act transparently.
The shooting death occurred less than four miles from where Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in the suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 9.
This is the video caught on camera by a bystander, which tells the story
(Caution, this is a video which captures a murder in full view, trigger warning! Some individuals have become very upset after viewing this, some have lost sleep!):
This next video is a compilation of store cameras which captured the apparent act of taking the two cans of soda:
Denis Oliver Velez informed me in a comment that a lawsuit was just filed against Ferguson Police regarding tasering a man to death in 2011. Well, in that case, it would not have boded well for Powell, had they tasered him instead of shooting him nine times!
Ferguson police officers restrained a mentally ill man and repeatedly shocked him with a Taser, causing him to die of a heart attack, a federal lawsuit alleges.
The suit was filed Tuesday by Tina Moore, who says officers used excessive force in arresting her husband, Jason Moore, on Sept. 17, 2011.
It names as defendants the Ferguson police department; the city of Ferguson; Police Chief Thomas Jackson; Ferguson police officers Brian Kaminski and Michael White; Mayor James Knowles; and City Council members Mark Byrne, Kim Tihen, Dwayne James, Tim Larson, David Conway and Keith Kallstrom.
Kaminski and White responded to a 911 call at North Marguerite Avenue and Airport Road in Ferguson, where Jason Moore was naked and unarmed, the lawsuit says.
Kaminski was the first to arrive and saw Jason Moore walk from behind a building and stand on the curb. He “was suffering from a psychological disorder and demonstrated clear signs of mental illness,” the suit says.
9:01 AM PT: I've made several edits since posting Wednesday night, improving the hasty writing by changing a word here and there.
1:08 PM PT: There has been much discussion in the comments regarding the victim's, Powell's, state of mind and his intentions. Was he just committing "suicide by cop," or were there broader intentions?
Let's look at some of the facts:
1) If he were simply out to end his life, with no other intent, why not choose quieter, easier, less involved ways to die? If he wanted cops to kill him, he could have charged any group of cops anywhere.
2) Instead he chose the setting, duplicating Brown's scenario, and followed a script.
3) He went into the store twice, because the first attempt to entice the store owner to call police failed, so he went in a second time, stealing some pastries.
4) As much as people claim he was agitated, he seemed calculating, controlled. He calmly executed his plan, adapting as he went along, very deliberately placed his stolen goods on the sidewalk in a symbolic, meaningful gesture, exhibiting the evidence, the goods of his theft, for all to see.
When the cops arrived, he slowly inches forward, hesitatingly, probably aware these were the last moments of his life. He minimally provokes them only by moving forward, nothing else. No agitated lunge... why not simply scream at them, at this point? But he sticks to the script. he wants this to mean something.
5) As a person in the comments points out, he maneuvers to cops to fire at him so as to protect the others nearby, so that they are not in the line of fire.
6) There is some question about how the witness with the camera knew in advance that this was going to happen, that he arrives already filming as he comes up the street on foot. He is informed, somehow, in advance, by someone who knew the victim, apparently. Did Powell try to make sure someone would get it on video?
Powell planned the whole thing.
He knew what he was doing all along. He only slowly moved towards cops. No lunging.
If he were just a maniac, or depressed, why not just find some cops, scream like a madman, and rush toward them with arms flailing? Or jump off a bridge? Or get a gun, take pills, turn the car on in the garage, or a million other ways?
Instead he calmly shoplifts, very intently puts the popcans on the sidewalk, and waits. When the cops come, he walks up, calmly, slowly, telling them to shoot him, which they do as if with permission.
No, whatever else this was, this was protest. And how do we know that monks who self-immolate to protest war are not also depressed? No one ever asks that, but certainly monks get depressed too, and certainly they may have more than one motive.
No, this was clearly intentional, and he spoke to us.
Let's hear him, let's hear his message. Let's honor his speech.