Three weeks ago, New York City policemen killed a knife-wielding man in broad daylight in Times Square. On that occasion, they had plenty of time to clear bystanders from their line of fire.
Therefore, nobody was injured when two trigger-happy policemen fired 12 shots between them from just three feet away. Local authorities have not said how many of those bullets actually hit their target.
Two weeks ago, NYC policemen killed a gunman in broad daylight on the street outside the Empire State Building. On this occasion they had no time to clear bystanders from their line of fire. Nine people were injured when two trigger-happy policemen fired a total of 16 shots from just four feet away.
This second shooting began after a disgruntled ex-employee exacted revenge by gunning down a former co-worker right there on the street (though without injuring anybody else). He had to have known he would be either arrested or shot dead on the spot. Indeed, he reportedly planned for the “suicide by cop” that followed.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg led a chorus of commentators heaping praise on the police for the way they performed on both occasions. But I see nothing praiseworthy about the police firing 12 shots to take down a mentally-ill man armed with nothing more than a knife. Even worse, it strikes me as not just reckless but incompetent that they sprayed so many errant shots at a standing target on the second occasion that nine bullets ended up hitting bystanders.
Clearly, given the ease with which disgruntled employees can get their hands on guns and “go postal,” the real shock is how rarely the police have to respond to such incidents. The irony is that the shooting at the Empire State Building demonstrates that the police pose far greater danger to the public by the way they respond, than the incidents themselves pose in the first place. (In this case, the gunman never even fired a single shot at them.)
So instead of praising these policemen as heroes, Mayor Bloomberg would do more to ensure public safety by requiring all NYC policemen to take remedial courses in target shooting – and mental training to know when it’s time to hold fire. Assuming deadly fire was even warranted, both of these incidents should have ended with no more than two clean shots.
In the meantime, all pedestrians would do well to think of New York City as “Dodge City,” because dodging police bullets could become a way of life there.
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian native with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.