Shooting McCoy

Published by marco on

The article Saving Willie McCoy by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice) includes a link to a body-cam video of the shooting of Willie McCoy. McCoy was found asleep in the driver’s seat of his car in the drive-thru lane of a Taco Bell. The police could clearly see a gun in his lap.

Willie McCoy OIS 020919 body camera video 2 by Mercury News (YouTube)

The first three minutes are largely uneventful. The officer notes that the magazine is not in the pistol, so the driver has at most one shot.

When he moves, McCoy’s first scratches his left arm with his right hand, as he seems to be waking up. The officer notes that he’s not awake yet. Seconds later, McCoy begins to sit up, the officers yell and shoot dozens of times, nearly immediately.

The article by Greenfield is quite weak, as compared to other he’s written. He’s extremely defensive about the point that it’s unlikely to be a case that ends in criminal investigation of the officers involved. He’s almost certainly right. He’s a lawyer, and a well-informed and experienced one, at that. He probably knows. But he jumps down the throat of anyone in his comments section who mentions anything other than what he’d already posted.[1]

That aside, though, it’s probably true that these officers will not even get an official reprimand for their behavior. It was all above-board. They followed procedure.

It was an odd situation. There was the danger that the man would wake, grab his gun and shoot. The officers knew that he would be able to shoot at most once, should he choose to do so.

By shining a light into his car, and standing with guns drawn as close as they could get to the vehicle, they didn’t seem to try to avoid the confrontation. It’s unclear what they were thinking. The whole situation seems to have been handled incompetently. They seemed to have all the time in the world. McCoy only awoke because of their noise and the bright flashlights shining into his vehicle. If they were afraid that he was going to drive away, they could have immobilized his vehicle (a boot?), then awakened him from a distance—perhaps with a megaphone.

instead, the officers used their weapons recklessly, putting themselves into a dangerous situation of their own creation. They were obviously terrified of this rapacious creature in the form of a “sleeping black man”. The dude was clearly asleep. His head was all lolled back on the seat. He posed no danger to anyone.

Until, of course, he awakened, startled, disoriented, with lights pointing at his face, blinding him and several completely hidden men shouting at him at the top of their lungs. He had at most a couple of seconds to process the situation, coming directly from sleep and into an adrenalin spurt. Did he know that these men were police officers? How could he? Is it likely he thought his life was in danger? Of course. It was. He had no idea what was going on and was never given a chance to find out.

The officers performed their perfunctory duty of informing him of their presence. Whether he had a chance of understanding them isn’t salient. When he failed to sit stock-still—not that that would have helped, they were on a hair trigger and terrified—they shot him with what sounded like dozens of bullets.

The article and commentary treats this situation as a sad outcome of perfectly normal policing. But it’s not normal. It’s grossly incompetent. They provoked the killing with their utter lack of training for defusing a situation. Everything they did escalated the situation, funneling it to the inevitable death of the “suspect”. Greenfield says as much, as well. He just follows up with his well-informed opinion that what happened is not punishable in the States.

I don’t see a lot of difference between this shooting and the police kicking the door down in a 4AM, no-knock raid, only to shoot anyone in the domicile who responds in a perfectly normal manner when their home is invaded: to defend it, possibly with a weapon they have every right to use to defend their home.

It didn’t have to go down that way. It’s not premeditated and I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know which charge would stick. As I was reading the description and watching the video, I thought to myself that, while pretty much accepted as an “it happens” kind of thing in the States, this isn’t an acceptable outcome in most other civilized countries that are not currently war zones.

In Switzerland, this would never have happened. It’s inconceivable. It would never have gotten this far. The police are far better-trained and don’t provoke violence so blatantly. It it were to happen, it would be a national scandal and these officers would be fired for gross negligence and incompetence, at the very least. It’s unlikely that most people would think that nothing could be done to punish the cops (from desk duty to leave of absence to dismissal to prosecution).

Greenfield writes “but stupid isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a capital offense”, which is exactly the right point.

I mean, falling asleep in a Taco Bell Drive-in with a gun in your lap while black in America is stupid. Who the hell knows though? Maybe the guy was narcoleptic? Maybe someone drugged his drink? Or his food? Maybe someone set him up and then called the cops in a new take on swatting? It’s a bit roundabout, but kind-of reliable way of taking care of a rival, no? And maybe this wasn’t even the intention—maybe someone was just fucking with McCoy and playing a prank on him. Maybe he took an antihistamine that didn’t agree with him. Maybe he was super-high or drunk when he got a craving for Taco Bell.

In another comment, though, Greenfield writes very belligerently and impatiently,

“There are two “real life” issues coming out of this. First, should the cops be criminally charged for the killing? Second, should the cops (or, in real life, the municipality that employs or insures them) be liable in damages for the wrongful death? Sad feelz aside, if neither of these fits the bill, then what is the point?”

There are no sad feelz, you dumbass. It’s just that this seems quite flagrant and people are trying to think of ways of preventing it from happening again. Flagrant seems kind of tame to describe “the police shot someone in his sleep”. Maybe the answer is “make Americans stop being so fucking hateful and stressed and hair-trigger and innately afraid of people who don’t look like them and also stop making the worst people in society cops and then not training them barely at all”. Maybe America is too broken to fix, because police can do this kind of thing and have their own conscience to deal with, but no desk duty or restriction in pay or loss of job or jail time.

I have no reason to think that the cops killed McCoy on purpose. It’s definitely not murder, and almost certainly not premeditated. Rather, a combination of terror, indoctrination, incompetence, self-preservation at all costs (as if that was the point of the job, as if it were a war zone), lack of empathy and just plain low intelligence and meanness made McCoy’s death a foregone conclusion.

This is not an isolated incident, but yet another example of how policing works in America. Yet another example of how America works.

There are a million reasons this happened and none of them is individually insurmountable—but taken together? Maybe America just needs a giant fucking mulligan. That country is a menace not only to the whole world, but increasingly to its citizens.

Knowing how America works, the search for a solution would escalate dramatically, were McCoy to belong to a cohort that anyone gives a damn about.


[1] I wasn’t the only one who noticed, either. His follow-up post was a defensive diatribe about how it’s his site and he’ll be as nasty as he wants to be. I’ve been following him for years, so I figure that, once he settles down a bit, he’ll see that maybe he was just a bit too harsh. He makes a good point that he has to see hundreds of stupid comments that we never see—but in this article’s case, he seemed to be publishing certain comments just in order to shit on them. While he is adding to the post by indicating his answers to common questions, some of his answers were so curt as to be inscrutable—there can be no learning effect from inscrutability. His site, his rules, but he seemed to be more frustrated than usual.