Deadly Dilemma

In Stanley Parker's neighborhood, what you wear and where you go can get you killed

In determining whether a shooting is justified, police investigators turn to deadly-force regulations, which state that deadly force may be exercised to protect the officer or others from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. Furthermore, the code states, "an officer will not discharge a firearm, when to do so would endanger a bystander or hostage."

"You shouldn't just fire into a group of people without knowing where the shot comes from," acknowledges firearms instructor Steve Moses, a firearms instructor and warrant officer for the Tarrant County (Texas) Constable's Office, "but, in fairness, it's like having a covey of quail blow up in your face."

What is known is that Parker was shot in the back by McGull. Furthermore, the gun found on Parker hadn't been fired.

Stanley Parker's makeshift memorial at Rosalie and 
Clarence
Jennifer Silverberg
Stanley Parker's makeshift memorial at Rosalie and Clarence

"If they're just holding a weapon or have a weapon, that doesn't necessarily mean they're going to use it on you," explains independent firearms instructor Jim Stephens of the Bull's Eye gun shop and firing range on Manchester Avenue.

The central question for investigators is whether McGull was engaged in a justifiable gunfight or fired at fleeing suspects.

But it's hardly ever that cut-and-dried, says Moses, who believes it's possible that one of Parker's buddies picked up the gun that McGull claims was fired first.

"When wasps come at you, you turn around and run. When people are under gunfire, they have the same reaction. You can probably do that [turn around] in two-tenths of a second. So if a guy turns around while he's still engaged in a threat, he's gonna get shot in the back," Moses says.

Many wonder why police aren't trained to shoot a suspect in the arm or leg rather than in the center of the torso.

"You're not trying to kill that person, you're trying to get them to cease their attack. The most effective way to do that is to shoot for center body mass," explains Moses. "People don't realize that a shot to the knee or a shot to the arm can be just as lethal. Your chances of missing and endangering someone else are greater."

Moses says the best way for an officer to prepare for combat scenarios is to immerse himself or herself in an ongoing regimen of tactical training that presents a variety of simulated scenarios, such as having to shoot from behind a barricade or in dim light.

Problem is, once a cadet graduates from the police academy, he or she is only required to requalify twice a year on a two-dimensional target range. And even though officers are required to review use-of-force policies every month, the department's tactical training system, called PRISim (Professional Range Instructor Simulator) , is voluntary. This is soon to change, however. Beginning January 1, officers will be required to pass tactical-training tests twice a year.

By day, the 4500 block of Clarence is as postcard-perfect a street as any in St. Louis, standing in sharp contrast to some of the bombed-out blocks south of West Florissant Road. The redbrick homes are meticulously maintained. When automobiles glide by, drivers frequently stop to exchange pleasantries with folks who are watering their lawns or working on their houses, many of which are undergoing restoration.

"This is a real quiet street here," says nineteen-year-old Jamir Baker, a factory worker who has lived in the neighborhood all his life.

Too quiet, says Shirley Ann Williams of the O'Fallon Community Organization. She pins the responsibility of incidents such as the Parker shooting squarely on the parents.

"Eight thousand people live in this neighborhood, but only ten come to meetings regularly," explains Williams. "Something happens in the community, and people want to blame police -- but they have no interaction with them.

"The question we're asking is: Why aren't your children at home?"

In addition to community involvement, Williams advocates basic crime-prevention techniques such as more street lights. Block-watch captain Richard Hayes, a 38-year-old truck driver and father of four teenagers, says it's simply a matter of frequent police patrols and getting kids into programs such as the YMCA and police boxing leagues.

However, Mokwa notes, "Most of these guys running around at 1 a.m. are not inclined to talk to cops."

To Janice King, it's a generational catch-22.

"Problem is, older people want police to do anything -- and police are treating everybody that's young like they're drug dealers," she says.

The Urban League's Buford says solution-based advocacy is what's missing in the ongoing debate.

"It's very easy to attack the police, and, believe me, the police are wrong in some instances -- but that's not gonna solve it," he explains. "The black community gets up in arms and says police shouldn't be shooting our kids. It puts police in confrontational mode -- they feel like they're not wanted. The kids do wrong, and yet the issue isn't what they do, it's what the police do. That shouldn't be the case."

Lifelong neighborhood resident Elam King (no relation to Janice), a violence-prevention expert with the Missouri Department of Social Services, is tired of the incessant finger-pointing.

"We get mad at the police, whoever. But why are young men walking around at 1 a.m. with guns? We're not asking the right questions. We need to be more intuitive," he says. "I understand why people don't get involved. They really have a right to be fearful. You've got young men scared of everybody. And you've got elders afraid to come out of the house.

"But ain't nobody gonna fly in on some spaceship and solve your problems."

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