23 Jul 2016

Baton Rouge police fumble mass shooting;
procedures, racial attitudes must change.

Baton Rouge police respond to shooting of fellow officers.
On Sunday July 17, his birthday, a black man, former highly-regarded U.S. Marine Gavin Long, shot and killed three Baton Rouge police officers and injured three others.

The murders, following the killing of five officers in Dallas, also by a black man, increased racial tensions and hatred in the United States beyond the crisis level of the 1960s, when black people were attacked and beaten across the South during their fight for civil rights.

Gavin Long’s attack on Baton Rouge police was calculated and brutal. Nevertheless, an analysis of Long’s actions, and the response of the Baton Rouge police, reveal the failure and poor procedures of the policing system that almost certainly exist in many American communities.

Had police acted differently and if policing techniques were more sophisticated in Baton Rouge, fewer police might have been killed – or the deadly confrontation might not have occurred at all.

The militarization of local police forces across the U.S. made Gavin Long, and no doubt many like him, fear and mistrust police. Many police departments now behave more like a military force, sometimes abusing people rather than acting like a community service with the goal of protecting all citizens.

Long lived in Kansas City. On July 5, he heard that a black man, Alton Sterling, had been killed in Baton Rouge for no good reason.

Later, police attested more than 100 people protesting the shooting of Sterling for allegedly blocking a highway. About 50 demonstrators were crammed into one cell.

While Long was planning his assassination trip to Baton Rouge, others had the same idea.

On July 11, police arrested three teenagers accused of stealing several handguns as part of what police called a 'substantial, credible threat' to harm police officers in the Baton Rouge area.

On July 12, Long rented a car in Kansas City and drove to Baton Rouge.

Gavin Long was a well-trained marksman and military expert. He was more than well equipped with an IWI Tavor SAR 5.56 calibre rifle, a Stag Arms M4 variant 5.56 caliber rifle, a pistol, and enough bullets to wreak havoc.

Police moved in too quickly

But how much did police know about what they were walking into?

Someone reported to police they had seen a suspicious man with a weapon.  It’s unclear if police were aware of additional vital information: The person was wearing a mask and black shorts.

But just knowing there was a man on the street with a weapon -- and in view of the fact they had killed Alton Sterling just days before -- should have warned them to proceeded with great caution. But they did not.

After an officer yelled “Man down!” over his phone system, perhaps as many as eight or nine officers raced in a disorganized manner to the scene of the shooting.

Police couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from. For several hours – just like in Dallas – they thought there were three shooters. Total chaos ensued.

Meanwhile, Long shot five more officers. By the time he was caught, he apparently had thrown away his weapons. Two policemen pinned him to the ground, and then shot him six times. The officers were placed on temporary leave.

There appears to be no discussion as to whether the two officers will be charged with murder or anything else.

Earlier, when the call came in about a man with a gun, it’s easy to understand they wanted to help a fellow officer. But, viewed in hindsight, it was foolish for a swarm of police to rush into an open area when they have no idea what they were up against.

Police clearly bungled the situation. If they had behaved differently, lives likely could have been saved.

If they were following “proper procedures”, changes are needed. At a minimum, officers need to use common sense and stay as hidden as possible until they know what’s happening around them.

Police used a robot to determine if there were explosives at the scene. Perhaps a robot could have helped identify the location of the shooter, and perhaps could have even been ordered remotely to fire on the shooter.

When the U.S. military uses sophisticated equipment such as drones to avoid casualties, why are local police departments still operating as though it’s the 1950s?

Identifying dangerous people

Baton Rouge police and other police across the U.S. don’t do nearly enough to identify potential mass murderers ahead of time.

The U.S. spends more than $16-billion a year on counter-terrorism, mainly monitoring and investigating the Muslim community.  But of the 26 major attacks since 9/11 defined as terror, Muslims carried out only seven.

The FBI has stepped up efforts to identify terrorists (i.e. radical Muslims) using social media,   but apparently there are few co-ordinated efforts to search out radicals and malcontents.

One way to spot dangerous people is obviously easy: Monitor Facebook and YouTube. Some mass murderers like to publicize their plans before they go into action.

On July 10 – one week before shooting the six officers in Baton Rouge police – Long posted videos on YouTube advocating revolution and telling people to attack their oppressors.  He used the pseudonym Cosmo Setepenra.

Hinting at what was to come, Long posted he would rather die fighting instead of coming back alive.

Micha Johnson, who shot and killed five policemen in Dallas earlier this month, discussed his plans ahead of time on social media.

If security forces had been adequately monitoring social media they might have known that both Long and Johnson were serious threats.

The crisis of police racism

Police departments across the U.S. need to be radically changed. Brutally racist officers, often working in teams, thrive in too many departments. American police killed 1,134 black people in 2015, the highest number ever.

Earlier, police pin down man protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling.  
Meanwhile, the public perception that a lot of police are shot to death is not true, says Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of Southern Carolina and former policeman.

Stoughton says, looking at the 10 years from 2006 to 2015 the annual average number of police deaths was 49.6, which he notes is "down significantly from the high."

A massive effort is required to weed out as many racists as possible and rehabilitate those capable of changing. In addition, before people are recruited to forces, they need to be tested to make sure they do not have racist tendencies. These tasks must be taken on by local governing councils, and if they refuse to do the job – just like many jurisdictions in the 1960s – the federal government needs to step in.

Erika Hayasaki of the University of California wrote about research into what could be done to reduce racism on police forces. She says that many more women should be hired by police, and that police should regularly take part in community dialogue.

Incidentally, I scanned U.S. mainstream media to find out if any paper or TV network has concerns about whether police did their job adequately in Baton Rouge and Dallas. Not a word. When such horrendous events occur, mass media totally sympathize with the police. This too needs to change.

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  1. Your suggestion that social media needs to be monitored better seems to forget that the NSA already does that ... remember that Snowden fellow. In any event that sort of approach has rarely if ever produced anything useful. What is required is a demilitarization of police forces, the adoption of a professional community policing model and the willingness to charge and try policemen who violate the law, cause harm and generally behave in an unprofessional manner. Policing in this day and age is a tough, demanding line of work that should not be done by anyone who harbours racist, violent and abusive tendencies.

  2. "Two policemen pinned him to the ground, and then shot him six times. The officers were placed on temporary leave."

    "Temporary leave" for killing someone because they were angry with him. Pinning him down and then shooting him - not once to wound, but six times.

    Placed on leave, rather than being tossed in a cell - arrested for murder and convicted, at a minimum, with manslaughter.

    Therein lies the police problem. The belief they themselves are above the law ... and it appears they are.

    Until that changes - in the police and in the courts, things will only get worse.