Friday, January 9, 2009

Houston Police Shoot Unarmed Robbie Tolan

CNN reports on another tragic police shooting. Houston police shot Robbie Tolan, the son of the famous baseball player, Bobby Tolan who played with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was 2 a.m. on December 31 when Tolan and his cousin, Anthony Cooper, were confronted in the driveway of their home by Bellaire, Texas, police officers. Police officials say the officers suspected the two young men were driving a stolen car.

Bellaire is a prominent, mostly white suburb in southwest Houston.

What the police described as an altercation took place. In the end, a white cop shot an unarmed black man, again.

I guess this story has been in Texas papers but only now, nine days later is it hitting the national media. Just the other day, Preaching to the Choir posted an essay about police violence, even offering the benefit of the doubt: "Or are our police doing the best they can at a difficult and dangerous job?"

Here's my comment to her post in its entirety:
My idea is that many police officers are unfit psychologically. These need to be weeded out or given desk jobs. New hires should meet higher standards; there must be ways to screen for extreme racism or the tendency to abuse power.

However, all that should always be accompanied with recognition of the fact that most officers are "doing the best they can at a difficult and dangerous job," as you said.

I'd like to add something to that. I think it may be about power. It may be about how people tend to abuse their power. What better examples are there than policemen shooting unarmed "suspects?" But, involved in this age-old problem of power management, if you will, is the continually expanding attitude in America of violence, or the threat thereof, being the answer.

Our frequent commenters who promote arming citizens as the best response to the violence in our society, I feel, have it wrong. They are perpetuating an increasingly bloody cycle which has no good end. I can understand, let's say the shop owner in Newark or Jersey City, who has to close up the store late in the evening, alone on the dark streets walking to his car with the days receipts in pocket. I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about the rest of you.

What's your opinion? Should young Tolan have been armed to protect himself from the police? Would that have helped?

Do you think there's a connection between the legitimate gun owners and all the misuse of firearms we read about, whether by the police or by criminals?

Please leave a comment.


  1. An armed Tolan protecting himself against the police?
    C'mon, the next paragraph would be a SWAT Team burning down the house and multiple fatalities.
    We are living in a cinematic fantasy world regarding firearms and violence in America.

    What happened to Tolan was the fruit of a land that accepts racial profiling and where racism is as American as apple pie.

    He was on his stomach and his mother was getting abused by the police in his own driveway and he protested to a testosterone crazed redneck who shot him in the back on the ground.

  2. shooting back at the cops is seldom a good idea, true. next question then: when the cops seem to think it's just fine for them to prone out random citizens on the ground and shoot them in the back, what are we going to do with the police? will we let them just get away with such behavior? if not, how will we go about changing it?

  3. Mike,

    Quick answer to your questions

    I think that most of the police are just doing the best they can. Unfortunately, there is a very minor percentage of abusive and crooked cops.

    Tolan having a firearm wouldn't have helped because he was obeying lawful police orders. Any good cop would have disarmed Tolan as part of that process.

    Do you think there's a connection between the legitimate gun owners and all the misuse of firearms we read about, whether by the police or by criminals?

    Do you think there is a connection between all men and those scum who rape and sexually assault women?

    Do you think there is a connection between all parents and the low life types that sexually or physically abuse their children?

    Do you think there is a connection between legitimate car owners and the irresponsibility dirt bags who drink, drive and kill innocent people?

    You are male, a parent, a car owner; should you be treated like a criminal because others are criminals?

    Now on to the subject that I see as the issue, simply NOT ALL VIOLENCE IS EQUAL.

    There is violence that stops crimes, that saves lives (protectionary) and violence that is used to rob people, that is used to take their lives (predatory).

    What I don't understand is your logic. There are those, in uniform and not, that will prey on people. There are those that use firearms to rape, rob, assault, murder innocent people and you want to take firearms away from those innocent people. It doesn't make sense.

    Long answer to the question about Tolan having a firearm. It wouldn't have helped if he had one but if his parents, relatives, friends, neighbors had been armed, this might not have happened.

    Robert Heinlein's quote is very appropriate and true.
    An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.

    If society as a whole was armed, do you think that this officer would have been so quick to shoot? Knowing that he might have to answer for his actions with his life?

    Isn't the fact that most people are disarmed the reason that crooks and cops feel they can violate people's rights?

    You consistently refuse to look at the other side...the protectionary side of violence

    Here is a great example
    Seventy-year-old woman holds home intruder at gunpoint, talks about ordeal

    A woman uses the threat of violence (protectionary) to stop the very real violence occurring (predatory). The crook broke in, was going to rob and who knows what else. Only the fact the frail, physically weaker person was able to have easy availability to firearms stopped further criminal activity.

    So, should only the "person carrying receipts" be armed...absolutely not. Everyone who wants to be armed should be allowed.

    Here are a few more examples from a site recommended many times

    Amarillo, Texas

    From News Channel 10 of January 7, 2009

    Police: Homeowner Fatally Shoots Alleged Robber

    Police say two men attempted to break into a home on the 4100 block of South Hughes in Amarillo this morning.

    The homeowner, police say, used a long gun to shoot one of the suspects. The other alleged robber managed to run away.

    San Antonio, Texas

    From My San Antonio of January 4, 2009

    'Justified homicides' more than doubled

    One hour after revelers welcomed the new year in 2008, a motorist at a Northwest Side intersection fired three shots into 24-year-old Tomas Garza, moments after authorities said Garza threatened the motorist with a baseball bat in an apparent road-rage incident.

    The killing, the first of 137 recorded in San Antonio last year, was an act of self-defense, police later determined, and was classified by department officials as a justified homicide.

    West Park, Florida

    From Florida Today of December 26, 2008

    West Park homeowner kills robber

    An armed robber who held a West Park man at gunpoint outside his home early this morning was killed when his victim pulled out a gun and fired first, the Broward County Sheriff's Office said.

    Brian Kelley, 22, was returning to his apartment in the 4100 block of Southwest 19th Street about 4:39 a.m. when he said Kenneth Nelson, 42, came up from behind him and put a gun to his head, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Mike Jachles.

    Kelley pulled out his own handgun and fired, striking and killing Nelson, of Hollywood.

    Pasadena, California

    From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune of January 6, 2009

    Woman shoots large raccoon attacking dog

    A woman shot and killed a raccoon that was fighting with her pit bull terrier, police said.

    Pasadena police Lt. Randell Taylor said neighbors called authorities to report a shot fired in the 600 block of Las Robles Avenue at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

    When police arrived, they learned a large raccoon had attacked a resident's dog.

    "She got a shovel and hit the raccoon about 15 times," Taylor said. "She shot it in the mid-section and it was still getting the best of the dog.

    Pell City, Alabama

    From the Cullman Times of January 5, 2009

    Man shoots alleged attacker

    A Pell City man is in the hospital with a gunshot wound after he allegedly broke into a Hanceville residence and attacked the owner Saturday.

    According to Hanceville police reports, the gunshot victim was 32-year-old Charles Kendrick.

    “He was shot once in the stomach with a 25-caliber automatic,” said Lt. Jimmy Rodgers of the Hanceville Police Department. “Further investigation has ruled it was a self-defense shooting.”

    Your goal is the reduction of firearms available to the decent people like those above.

  4. Isn't the fact that most people are disarmed the reason that crooks and cops feel they can violate people's rights?

    What is the murder, assault rate in the UK, Switzerland or Germany?

  5. Let me tell you, that sentence you quoted from my blog post was not easy for me to write, but I was trying to be neutral so as not to scare people away. Read my comment from this morning to get a better sense of how I really feel about the subject.

    Had Tolan been armed with a gun, he would either be dead right now or facing attempted murder charges. Maybe a jury would acquite him on self-defense, but no prosecutor would refuse to file the charge out of fear of the wrath of the blue wall. If any of Tolan's friends, family, or neighbors had come into the situation with a gun, well, those people would have been shot and/or facing criminal charges. If you want to survive an encounter with the police with minimal damage, don't bring a gun.

    Bob, you may be right that there are different levels of violence, but in my mind all violence is bad. Not in the morally unjustified sense, but in the societally undesirable sense. Don't we all want there to be less violence, even of the defensive or preventive kind?

    I've never understood the logic of those who think that having more guns on the street makes it less likely that people will get shot. I think, at least in the context of police force, that the sheer volume of guns out there make the police more trigger happy. They know people have guns so they're more likely to act as if each person out there, even the black guy who's driving his too-nice car into his driveway in the too-nice (white) neighborhood, has a gun. They're way more likely to shoot you if they think you have a gun.

  6. S,

    Bob, you may be right that there are different levels of violence, but in my mind all violence is bad. Not in the morally unjustified sense, but in the societally undesirable sense. Don't we all want there to be less violence, even of the defensive or preventive kind?

    I disagree that all violence is bad for society. That which draws the line, that which protects isn't bad, it is necessary.

    I think we all won't less violence, but the way to get that is not to prevent good people from defending themselves. That only allows the bad people freer range of violence.

    If someone was assaulting you, wouldn't you want a bystander to step in...use violence if necessary to stop the attack?

    The threat of violence is often enough to stop predatory violence as seen in the multitude of defensive gun uses, especially like the 70 year old lady.

    Marko Kloos from the Munchkin Wrangler blog has a great answer to the question about the number of firearms.
    Why the Gun Is Civilization

    Human beings only have two ways to deal with one another: reason and force. If you want me to do something for you, you have a choice of either convincing me via argument, or force me to do your bidding under threat of force. Every human interaction falls into one of those two categories, without exception. Reason or force, that's it....

    When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force. The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year old gangbanger, and a single gay guy on equal footing with a carload of drunk guys with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size, or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender.

    As they say, read the whole thing.

    The Heinlein quote also typifies the philosophy. Yes, if everyone is armed, the police will treat everyone as armed. But the police won't have a monopoly on force, they would have to be aware of a couple of facts.
    First, they are outnumbered.

    Second, there would be an immediate recourse to any wrong doing. The police wouldn't be as quick to shoot someone if they thought the victims and others could and would shoot back.

  7. [...] in my mind all violence is bad. Not in the morally unjustified sense, but in the societally undesirable sense. Don't we all want there to be less violence, even of the defensive or preventive kind

    if we could have that without paying any extra cost, certainly. the problem is that we usually can't. reduce defensive violence, and unless some other factor intervenes predatory violence will increase.

    in fairness, it's usually not possible to reduce one kind of violence without changing other factors also. you need some method, some societal pressure, with which to reduce any one kind of violence; and such pressure is seldom particularly specific or selective. even so.

    what's worse, though, is that your statement above seems to equate "societally undesirable" with "morally unjustified", or at least put them on a comparable level of importance. that's ethically treacherous; you're making implicit statements about morals and ethics when you do that, and even if you might agree with those implications, you would do better by making them explicit instead.

    for instance, i'd happily take a society that had a homicide rate of ten per hundred thousand, where half of the victims were known criminals, over one that had a rate of eight per hundred thousand and only two (out of eight) of those victims had prior criminal records. my implicit assumption is that i'm planning to not commit any crimes, and i'm trying to reduce my homicide exposure as a law-abiding citizen. society is not a homogenous lump, and not all parts of it are ethically comparable.

    to entirely equate "societally desirable" with "ethical" gets us moral utilitarianism. i don't know about anybody else, but i personally happen to despise utilitarianism. the best argument against it i know of is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; it might not have been intended as a counterargument to a particular school of ethics, but i think it works excellently that way.

  8. Bob, I didn't mean it was "bad for society" or even unnecessary. I agree that some is necessary, hence my use of the term morally justifiable. But, whether it's necessary or not, I maintain that as a society, we are better off if there is no violence. I meant all violence is bad as in we'd like to avoid it and find ways for it not to occur, whether it be of the unprovoked or justifiable and necessary variety.

    As for the gun being civilization, well I just flat disagree with that. In my experience, people are more likely to deal with each other through force precisely because they suspect the other has a gun.

    I'm sorry, Nomen, but your comment is reading WAY too much into what I wrote, and frankly I don't even know how to respond. "Bad" doesn't have to mean ethically wrong, people. "Bad" includes things like "injurious in effect." Like it or not, having to use force takes a toll on people. There's simply nothing ethically treacherous about saying I'd like to reduce all violence, which would include even that which is done in justifiable self-defense. In case it's not obvious, that means I don't want people to need to use self-defense, not that they shouldn't. Sheesh.

  9. S,

    Sorry but I took it the same way that Nomen did, that you agreed that all violence was bad like Mike does.

    It is a dream to have no violence in the world. I like it and hope for it. I do my part by being ready to stop violence, by force if necessary. Would I prefer to live in a society where carrying a firearm wasn't needed, yes.

    But how do we get there?

    I'll tell you it is not be disarming everyone as the gun banners want to do.

  10. Grist for the mill as the saying goes

    Predatory vs Protectionary Violence - Texas Knows the difference (Hat tip to Second City Cop)

    The recent shootings follow a year in which Alamo City residents and police killed more than twice as many people in what officials have deemed justified homicides, ones in which the shooter acted within the law.

    Notice the lack of bias in this part; it is not "gunmen", or people "packing heat", just the accurate description - shooter.

    Tuesday night’s fatal shooting of two suspected home invaders marked the latest example of a resident using deadly force to fend off intruders, authorities said.

    “It appears to be a justified shooting,” said Sgt. Gabe Trevino, a San Antonio Police Department spokesman.

    Alex Salas, 17, shot two men as the intruders kicked in the front door of his parents’ home in the 100 block of Horace Street, according to a police report.

    Various law enforcement agencies across the country also have reported an increase in justified homicides. George R. Franks Jr., a criminal justice professor at Stephen F. Austin University, said publicity of high-profile justified shootings has inspired others to take up arms.

    “As people see these things happening to folks they identify with, they decide it’s time for them to arm themselves,” he said.

    Tuesday night’s shooting occurred a day after a West Side homeowner shot and injured a 15-year-old boy as the teen and his father attempted to break into a residence. The 33-year-old homeowner was not charged in Monday’s shooting.

    In a third justified shooting, a San Antonio police officer shot and wounded an armed robbery and carjacking suspect outside a Northwest Side apartment complex after a high-speed chase Friday. According to police, the suspect tried to point a gun at the officer.

    Perhaps the changes to the "Castle Doctrine Laws" and increased concealed carry might have something to do with this:
    Dallas Murder Numbers Down Year-To-Year

    DALLAS (CBS 11 News) ― The streets of Dallas, along with many cities in the United States, are growing safer.

    The city of Dallas saw a drop in murders for 2008, with 170 for the year. That number is down from 200 in 2007.

    Dallas Police say 170 murders are still too many, but they are pleased it's a lower number than in years past. They believe targeting specific types of crimes is paying dividends.

    Perhaps it is as the cops say, they are targeting particular types of you think that targeting jaywalking, running red lights or targeting violent crimes, drug crimes does more to reduce the homicide rate?

    By the way, for those following the statistics: Dallas population - 1,232,940 in 2007. 170 homicides gives a rate of 13.8.

  11. Should young Tolan have been armed to protect himself from the police? Would that have helped?

    grist for yon mill:

  12. The grist mill is working overtime. Thanks for all the comments.

    Perhaps we need Tom to comment on this, but something Bob said made me think about Texas. I thought you Texans had told me in your neck of the woods people are assumed to be armed. But Bob said, "If society as a whole was armed, do you think that this officer would have been so quick to shoot? Knowing that he might have to answer for his actions with his life?"

    Maybe this proves that people being armed or even the possibility of that leads to greater violence, as S. said.

  13. Mike,

    Just because I make that assumption doesn't mean that the police have to or that it is statistically valid. Acting as if everyone is armed is actually a comment from Jay's blog in regards to bringing weapons into my home. If I don't want someone bringing weapons into my home, I don't want that person in my home.

    The last number I heard for Concealed Carry Permits was about 300,000 in 2007. Add another 50 to 75 thousand for 2008 and you still have a only at max 400,000.

    Population of Texas in 2006 was 23,507, some quick math means only 1.7 % of the population is legally carrying. Double it for illegal carry and you still have less then 3.5% of the people armed.

    Pretty good odds for a cop NOT to encounter an armed citizen.

    Sorry, but I think that you and S have it completely wrong. The chance a person would have to back up their words and actions with their life (armed society) means that people will quickly learn to watch their words and curb their actions.

    It would not lead to greater violence but less. It would also lead to people not being subjected to as much physical bullying.

    Let's use the much praised common sense here: Would you a criminal be more likely or less likely to try to rob someone if they were armed?

    It is a myth of the violent "wild west" and all the shoot outs.
    Here is an example of that, I realize that it is just an anecdote, but it is a researched anecdote.
    Treat Them to a Good Dose of Lead (Why the 'Wild West' was not what Liberals claim-my title)
    Chronicles Magazine ^ | January 1994 | Roger D. McGrath
    While robbery occurs with alarming frequency in American cities today, only rarely was a resident of Aurora or Bodie robbed. During the boom years there were fewer than 20 robberies of individual citizens in the towns. The stagecoach was targeted more often, suffering a couple dozen robberies. When highwaymen stopped a stage, they nearly always took only the express box and left the passengers untouched. Passengers frequently remarked that they had been treated courteously by road agents. Only twice were passengers robbed. In the first instance, the highwaymen later apologized for their conduct; in the second, the robbers were drunk. Highwaymen understood that they could take the express box and not arouse the general populace, but if they insulted or robbed passengers they would precipitate a vigilante reaction...


    Robberies of individual citizens followed a clear pattern: the victim had spent the evening in a gambling den, saloon, or brothel; he had revealed in some way that he had a goodly sum of money on his person; and he was drunk, staggering home late at night when the attack occurred. More robberies might have occurred had not Aurorans and Bodicites gone about armed and ready to defend themselves. Unless thoroughly ine­briated, they were simply too dangerous to rob. A case in point was the attempted robbery of Bodie miner C.F. Reid. When a robber told Reid to throw up his hands, Reid said "all right" and began raising them. As he did so, he suddenly drew a foot-long bowie knife from an inside pocket and drove the steel blade into the robber's shoulder. The robber screamed with pain and took off running "like a deer." Reid gave chase but soon lost sight of the man. Reid was satisfied, though, feeling certain that he had "cut the man to the bone."

    Clearly crooks would know that people are armed and be unwilling to risk the confrontation. Those that do risk it would quickly be either sent to prison or killed.

    The evidence is clear if you choose to look at it. Armed citizens reduce crime and violence.

    From - top ten countries for total crime per capita (rates per 1,000 people)

    #1 Dominica: 113.822
    #2 New Zealand: 105.881
    #3 Finland: 101.526
    #4 Denmark: 92.8277
    #5 Chile: 88.226
    #6 United Kingdom: 85.5517
    #7 Montserrat: 80.3982
    #8 United States: 80.0645
    #9 Netherlands: 79.5779
    #10 South Africa 77.1862

    I'm not an expert on gun ownership, but it seems only Finland and the USA have considerable amounts of firearms available to the civilians.

  14. How the fuck did we get above a shithole like South Africa????

  15. different crime reporting standards, i'm betting, weerd. one of the many reasons i don't trust comparisons of statistics across national borders.

  16. Nomen has it right, different definitions, reporting methods or even in the case of some countries(England) failure to report crime.

    Point of the matter is that America far exceeds every other country in the number of firearms....but not in total crime rates, violent crime rates, etc.

  17. Nomen, who always has an insightful comment said, "different crime reporting standards, i'm betting, weerd. one of the many reasons i don't trust comparisons of statistics across national borders."

    I say, it's "one of the many reasons I don't trust comparisons of statistics." Period.

  18. Also on the South African stats, that number is the "total crime" stats....I imagine America is higher because of theft and robbery.

    I don't imagine that the poor people of South Africa have nearly the luxury items even the poorest people in America has. Less to steal, less crime.

  19. Another anecdote from the Formerly Great Britain:

    By Peter Allen
    Last updated at 4:35 PM on 12th January 2009

    Robber stabbed to death with sushi knife by seven angry waiters for stealing their tips

    Seven waiters at a Japanese restaurant in Paris were under arrest today after an armed robber was stabbed to death with a sushi knife after trying to steal their tips.

    (From the country with restrictive gun control laws, it seems it doesn't keep the criminals from getting firearms, does it?)

    The 22-year-old was brandishing a pistol when he raided Planet Sushi, in the upmarket 5th arrondissement, last night.

    An accomplice, also 22, was with him, holding an electric stun gun.
    Planet Sushi, Paris

    (In the absence of firearms, other weapons will be used....criminals still have the edge because they are willing to break the laws)

    The 22-year-old unnamed man was stabbed to death with a sushi knife after trying to steal tips from Planet Sushi, in the upmarket 5th arrondissement in Paris

    (So, he decided to commit a crime and use a firearm in that crime...gun crime or robbery? If he wasn't going to commit robbery, it wouldn't matter if he had the gun or's about crime not guns.)

    The pair first demanded that that management in the restaurant handed over all the day’s takings.

    When they refused the criminals began helping themselves to a tray full of tips.

    This infuriated the waiters, who began fighting with the robbers, stabbing one
    with a razor sharp kitchen knife used to ‘sculpt’ fish segments into sushi.

    ‘An extremely vicious fight broke out, with one robber mortally wounded,’ said
    a Paris police spokesman.

    ‘The robbers had arrived soon after 11pm when the tip tray was pretty full. The thought they could get away with the cash, but the restaurant staff were having none of it.

    ‘That’s when a knife was used on one of the robbers.

    ‘We arrived at the scene with ambulance staff but they could do nothing to save the injured man. He was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later.

    ‘Seven staff at the restaurant have been arrested along with the second alleged robber. A full enquiry is under way.’

    Police refused to name any of the suspects involved.

    (So, for defending themselves and their livelihood, the waiters are in is that for the government protecting people's rights? )

    Self Defense is a human right! It should be the job of the government to protect those rights....not violate them.