The Death of Justin Jackson: When Will People Learn?

This isn't going to be the post you might expect from me. 

I am tired of watching families wail on television over the loss of a family member due to the police.  I am very sorry for the loss to the family and can completely understand that in their grief, they need to blame someone. 

I blame the media.   For two repeated mistakes.

First, they allow to go unchallenged the perception that the police are supposed to shoot armed suspects “in the leg” or somehow incapacitate them without putting the public and themselves at risk of being shot by a person wounded in the leg, not their arm.  It makes no sense.  It only happens on television.  Maybe we should try to incapacitate John Shumway via his leg and see if he can still shove the microphone into the face of a grieving parent?  Maybe David Highfield should do a very special episode of the KDKA news and actually inform the public about police procedures so they can in turn make informed decisions when walking around with stolen weapons.  Or loving the people who walk around with stolen weapons. 

Second, the police dog is a police officer. It doesn't matter if you think that's stupid.  It is written into state law so there ya go.  Deal with it.  If the dog disabled the person about to shoot you, you'd be pretty darn happy.  It doesn't work both ways.  The media images about police dogs always show them barking to tap right into one of the public's biggest fears — dog bites.  Good job.  Make the public more afraid of the police. 

It just sickens me that there is so little critical thinking happening when the media cover these stories.  They are quick on WPXI to wave Justin Jackson's rap sheet all about as if that somehow warrants his death.  They are equally quick to pick the soundbite of his family's denial that he needed some serious intervention long before he took a stroll down Arlington Avenue. 

All that is missing is the quote from CPRB.  That will hit all the high notes and they'll be on to a new story. 

It is so freakin' reductionist.  Justin Jackson was a messed up kid who came from God knows what kind of background.  His family lost their son.  The police were doing their damn job.  The dog was doing his.  It is a complicated, social nightmare and yet no one seems to talk about it in rational terms — they just want to get the juicy details and point the finger. 

I looked up Justin's record and it is not the record of someone who learned from a mistake.  He certainly didn't learn not to carry a stolen weapon.  Or how to interact with the police and come out alive.  So who failed to teach him that?

The police didn't know his record.  They knew he had a gun and that he was willing to shoot a police officer (yes, a dog — we had this discussion).  He wasn't an 11 year old child running the opposite direction. 

Everyone had choices.  None of them were good. 

This makes me especially sick because of a situation in my own neighborhood one year ago.  A kid similar to Justin — record of drugs and guns — was dealing and causing problems.  Big brother in federal prison.  All four dads in his life had rap sheets. We did all the right things.  Made all the right calls.  Tried to tap into resources like One Vision, One Life  — who should be making a television appearance any minute now — to be repeatedly ignored and misled.  The sad thing is they were really ignoring and lying to this kid.  He didn't matter enough or he wasn't bad enough or violent enough for anyone to take some time to talk with him.  What's more meaningful — a whole contingent of street warriors at a memorial service or one making some time to try and save a kid who wasn't that far gone? 

I'll say right now that the police were far more helpful than One Vision, One Life or our local “safety officer” or our elected officials.  The police did exactly what they promised.  Unlike the rest of them. 

May Justin Jackson rest in peace and may his family find some peace with his death. 

May the rest of us stop getting caught up in a Law & Order dramatic take on police conduct and actually start putting our energies into social programs that prevent and reduce these situations from happening.  May we elect leaders who invest our valuable resources into our valuable children and families.  May we hire administrators that run efficient and effective programs. 

Amen.

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