So, in Mount Oliver on Tuesday evening, police officers exchanged shots with a 19-year-old, resulting in the deaths of the young man as well as a police dog. By most accounts, such as those in the P-G and the Trib, the story went like this:
Police officers were responding to reports of shots fired on Arlington Avenue when they see 19-year-old Justin Jackson standing on the street. The cops, with K-9 in tow, approach Jackson and ask him to take his hands out of his pockets. When he does, he’s holding a gun. The cops release the dog to disarm (or at least incapacitate) Jackson; he responds by shooting the dog. The cops respond by shooting Jackson.
End of story.
So what do we make of this? On my first (and second, and third) readings of this story, I think I was able to put together a rather sound concept of what happened: the kid fired his gun in the direction of the dog, which also happened to be in the direction of the cops, and the cops responded in kind. Sounds relatively cut and dry.
But Jackson’s family sees it a different way. And in their grief, they have formed several well-conceived theories on what happened Tuesday night:
The cops shot the kid to avenge the death of the dog.
“The officer told me, 'Our dog got shot so we shot him.' They killed my son over a dog,” Jackson’s father said in the Trib.
“"I'm speechless that this happened. I just don't know what to say. They shot him because of a dog.,” Jackson’s aunt said in a separate Trib article.
"They will pay for killing my son. They are going to pay for shooting my son over a dog!” Jackson’s mother said in the Trib.
Okay, folks, all together now: in all likelihood, Justin Jackson was not shot because he killed Aulf, the Pittsburgh K-9 unit’s six-year-old German shepherd. When Justin Jackson shot at the dog, he was shooting in the direction of the police.
Now here comes the really complicated part, so pay close attention:
When police get shot at, they shoot back. Not to avenge a dog, but to protect their own lives.
If you had a gun and someone was shooting at you (or in your direction), I’m guessing you’d probably return fire.
Jackson didn’t have a gun.
This theory has emerged in today’s reports in both papers (to wit: ”Family challenges police account of killing” in the P-G and ”Police say Knoxville man shot first” in the Trib).
In the Trib: “…family members said Justin Jackson was not known to carry [a gun].”
Naturally, Jackson does have firearms violations on his criminal record, which is normal for someone who is not known to carry a gun.
Of course, the police do feel pretty confident that Jackson was carrying a gun.
From the P-G: “Eyewitnesses, evidence at the scene and trace evidence from the crime lab will prove beyond doubt that he had the gun,” said Lt. Daniel Herrmann of Major Crimes.
Jackson’s father has his own eyewitnesses.
From the P-G: Many family members do not believe he had a gun and theorized that police shot both the K-9 and Mr. Jackson.
Donald James Jackson, his father, said he has witnesses to back up this theory, but he did not want to provide their names yesterday.
He said witnesses told him that they saw one of the officers hover over his son's body and he suspects the officers planted a gun and other evidence there.
About those witnesses, check out some of the quotes from bystanders in the first report in the Trib:
”"He shot the dog, and they shot him," said Glass, 15.
That’s good insight from a 15-year-old.
Also from the Trib:
"I think people should be able to go to the bus stop without being shot," said Stephanie Bibey, 15, echoing a statement made by several bystanders.
Just to be clear: 15-year-olds don’t echo statements; they mimic them.
Undoubtedly, these are the kinds of witnesses Mr. Jackson is relying on to prove that his son did not have a gun.
Never mind that the bullets taken from Aulf were consistent with a .357 magnum, exactly the type of gun found at the scene and believed to have been the one Jackson pulled.
I guess all I’m getting at here is that, sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, a police shooting is not a racially-motivated event created by power-hungry pigs who are overcome with their sense of authority. Sometimes police use their weapons because they are under fire. Justin Jackson didn’t need to die Tuesday night, but when he fired in the direction of the police, I’m not sure what other outcome he could have expected.
The lesson: don’t shoot at cops.
It’s pretty simple.