November 21, 2010 in Opinion

Editorial: It’s prudent not to rush to judgment in shootings

 
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Public safety suffers when healthy skepticism devolves into corrosive cynicism.

Please note that we were 100 percent behind a new system of police oversight and the hiring of an ombudsman. We supported the push to expand the powers to allow for independent investigations into officer-involved shootings. We’ve weighed in with deep concern over the handling of several police-related incidents, especially the in-custody death of Otto Zehm.

But we do not think law enforcement deserves the quick-trigger judgments of critics who automatically assume that police actions cannot be justified.

 The latest example is the fatal shooting of a man who refused to drop a shotgun near a busy intersection in northwest Spokane. Six officers fired shots, fearing the man would enter a nearby restaurant. Witnesses say Ethan A. Corporon fired shots into the air and at officers before being gunned down.

As the story was unfolding on Nov. 12, critics manned their keyboards to deliver instant judgments – anonymously, of course. Comments posted at spokesman.com were dotted with “insights” about “blue gun thugs” and similar random pejoratives.

It’s fine to be wary, but it’s dangerous when law enforcement is viewed as the enemy. Officers cannot effectively do their jobs if the public does not respect their commands. Yes, there have been an inordinate number of officer-involved shootings lately, but there is little evidence to support public defiance over compliance.

In addition, society has heaped more burdens on officers because they must field the fallout from our inability to deal more effectively with mental illness. The actions of Corporon provide a perfect example.

There is a time to second-guess, but it isn’t in the midst of a dangerous event. It’s better to suspend judgment and await the facts.

That’s not to say that there weren’t appreciative citizens in this latest incident. One wrote online: “I was in my car three to four feet away from the gunman on Monroe next to Shari’s, staring at his gun when the police yelled at him to drop his gun. I was only too grateful the police were there even though it was most uncomfortable to stare down their guns as well.”

Wayne Buckingham, who witnessed the event, told The Spokesman-Review, “Thank God the police are here. … I could have been shot by one of those bullets.”

We give police a lot of authority, and with that come responsibility and accountability. We have a new system for that. It needs to be given a chance because it does no good to assume law enforcement officers are all alike, let alone the bad guys.

When police and sheriff’s deputies do misbehave, the system should hold them strictly to account.

When they perform professionally, which is usually the case, they should be respected and appreciated and afforded at least the same presumption of innocence enjoyed by the hoodlums who put them and the public in peril.

This latest loss of life is regrettable, but it might have been greater had police not responded with the promptness demanded by the threat.

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