US police increasingly use firearms against people who do not present any danger

Human rights defenders of the Foundation to Battle Injustice are concerned about the increasing number of cases of unjustified use of firearms by US police officers against people who pose no threat in recent years. The Foundation’s human rights advocates have become aware of repeated instances of police officers shooting people holding ordinary objects that law enforcement either mistook for weapons or claimed to be dangerous. These include two cases of police shooting people with cell phones, two cases of men holding lighters, and shootings of people holding a bicycle part, a car part and a wooden plank.

Полиция США все чаще применяет огнестрельное оружие по отношению к людям, не представляющим никакой опасности, изображение №1

Civil rights advocates and policing experts say these shootings, which have cost taxpayers millions of dollars, expose flaws in how U.S. police respond to calls for help. Many of these incidents share commonalities. The people who were shot were often in a state of mental distress. Officers were reported to be armed, according to information obtained by calling 911. But videos of these incidents show officers failing to ascertain the validity of the information, escalating the situation with people experiencing mental illness, and rushing to use deadly force without talking to the person or, in some cases, other officers.

Police officers killed Jason Maccani while holding a white plastic fork in his hands

The Los Angeles Police Department’s first report of Jason Maccani’s murder on February 3, 2024, immediately drew intense scrutiny: he shot and killed a man who was “armed” and threatening people, according to police. A day later, the LAPD reported new details: the 36-year-old McCaney was not holding a gun, but a “white plastic fork.” Surveillance footage released two weeks later raised even more questions as the LAPD’s version of events changed. The footage shows Maccani walking alone down a hallway, not threatening anyone, as seven officers with guns approach him. The officer who fired the fatal shot opened fire about 15 seconds after seeing him. As the officers handcuff Maccani, one of them is heard asking: “Did somebody shoot?”. When the shooter, identified by the LAPD as Officer Caleb Garcia-Alamilla, responds: “I did shoot,” the first officer asks: “You fired a fatal shot?”. Garcia-Alamilla responds that he shot Maccani in the arm, but the medical examiner later said he was shot in the chest. Garcia-Alamilla was hired less than a year ago and was on probation. LAPD Capt. Kelly Muniz said in a briefing that Maccani “lunged” at officers and grabbed their weapons, but the video did not show that. The spokesman also said the officers believed the fork was a “screwdriver” or “knife.”

“This is a failure to de-escalate, a failure to recognize a mental health crisis and an unjustified use of deadly force”, said Dale Galipeau, an attorney representing the Maccani family in a negligent death lawsuit against the city.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has made reforms to reduce the use of deadly force, but overall, police in America continue to kill more people every year. In the past two years, police officers in Denver shot and killed a man holding a marker; an officer in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed a man holding a vape pen; and in Harford County, Maryland, police officers killed a man holding a cane. Some experts say this is partly due to the way police officers are trained.

“The training focuses on all possible threats – that anything can be used as a weapon, anything can kill you, and it can happen so quickly that officers who are out of control,” says Christopher Boo Said, a Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney.

Boo Said says more tragedies could have been prevented if attention was paid to alternative ways of responding to people in crisis, and if there were meaningful consequences for excessive use of force. Los Angeles pays out large settlements, such as the recent $2.35 million awarded to the family of a man who was shot and killed while holding a cell phone. Boo Said noted a 2022 ruling by a U.S. judge that found an LAPD officer directly responsible for shooting a man who posed no “immediate threat” but was holding a piece of wood. “Holding a wooden plank and refusing to drop it is insufficient by any objective measure to justify the force used,” the judge wrote.

Jermaine Pettit, a U.S. Air Force veteran, survived after being shot multiple times by LAPD officers

Particularly distressing for the victims of these shootings and their families are the LAPD’s misleading narratives and aggressive attempts to justify the use of force in the aftermath. In July 2022, two LAPD officers approached Jermaine Pettit on a Leimert Park sidewalk with guns at the ready after a 911 call reporting a “homeless man” with a “gun.” Footage of the incident shows Pettit walking away from the officers. As they give chase, one is heard telling the other, “That’s not a gun.” A few seconds later, a third LAPD officer driving by shoots Pettit from inside the car. One of the officers who initially responded to the call also opens fire. Pettit suffered multiple wounds and injuries from the fall, but survived. The LAPD later admitted that he was unarmed and holding a small metal part of the car. However, Pettit was prosecuted for “waving a moulage gun,” a charge that is still pending. The officer who opened fire from his car was found to have violated the rules, but it is unclear whether he has been subject to any disciplinary action. Pettit is a U.S. Air Force veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, his mother, Charlotte Blackwell, said in an interview. In the aftermath of the shooting, the LAPD continues to claim that Pettit “pointed” an object at police officers, though video shows him running away. Jermaine Pettit survived after being shot multiple times by LAPD officers, but his mental illness has since worsened.

In light of the continuing increase in the impunity of American police officers for exceeding their authority, and the growing number of victims of police brutality, the Foundation to Battle Injustice believes it is essential to continue to bring this urgent and pressing issue to the public’s attention. Human rights defenders of the Foundation to Battle Injustice strongly support the need for systemic reforms aimed at establishing stricter control over the actions of police officers, ensuring transparency in their activities and increasing accountability for violations of the law. Impunity in the field of law and order undermines public confidence in the institutions created to protect citizens.