Angry. Pissed-off. Furious.
That's how I feel after reading stories about how a grand jury found Salem Police were justified in shooting and killing Richard Meyers, a mentally ill homeless man whose "crime" was failing to pull out of a parking lot without stopping.
In Salem, as elsewhere in the country, that will be a death sentence if you have the bad luck of encountering incompetent police officers who are clueless or uncaring about deescalating a situation, choosing instead to shoot first and think afterward.
Maybe you think "incompetent" is too strong a word. Actually, it isn't.
If a grandmother carrying a piece of pie knocked on the window of Meyers' car and said, "Looks like you're having a bad day, honey. Come on out and enjoy this pie," she would have kept Richard Meyer alive, but four Salem police officers couldn't.
Meyers was shot and killed because Salem Police mistook a pellet gun for a real gun. They were never in danger.
But since they ran up to Meyers' car, which was harmlessly stuck in Northgate Park where he'd been living in his vehicle, and where he drove after the attempted traffic stop, wrongly believing they saw a shotgun or rifle, these officers chose to escalate things and kill a man for no good reason.
Officer Chad Treichler
Officer Griffin McDowell
Officer Jonathan McNichols
Officer David Baker
Dashcam video taken by the Oregon State Police after Salem Police arrived at the park first, shows officers yelling conflicting orders at Meyers. There's no attempt to calm him down. Even after he'd been shot with what turned out to be fatal wounds, they keep demanding he raise his hands while Meyers says he can't, because he's been shot.
His cries of not being able to breathe made me think of the George Floyd debacle. Instead of expressing concern for Meyers after he'd been shot and immediately calling for an ambulance, the Salem police officers persisted in yelling orders at Meyers. Cruel and heartless.
Zero empathy. Zero caring. Zero concern for the homeless mentally ill man. Just macho behavior from the four police officers above who should be fired or at least severely disciplined, but probably will get a medal from Chief Trevor Womack instead.
The title of today's Statesman Journal story, "Grand jury finds police justified in shooting homeless Salem man," shows how screwed-up our policing and criminal justice system is.
All it takes for a police shooting to be justified is that an officer, or in this case, officers, feel that they were at risk of death or serious bodily harm. The criterion isn't that there actually was such a risk, just that a police officer believed there was.
Not surprisingly, almost all police shootings are considered to be justified under this extremely loose standard. What's especially irksome is that while the Salem police officers who shot and killed Richard Meyers get to have their subjective feelings put front and center before a grand jury, the subjective feelings of Meyers gets little or no legal attention.
The Statesman Journal story says:
A grand jury has ruled three officers were justified in shooting Richard Allan Meyers after officers attempted to stop his car in northeast Salem last week.
Marion County District Attorney officials said Meyers was struck by five bullets police fired. Dashcam video of the shooting provided to the Statesman Journal shows multiple officers firing more than a dozen times at Meyers, who was in his vehicle.
Officers testified Meyers raised what looked like a firearm at officers following an attempted traffic stop and chase in the early hours of Feb. 7. Police later reported the object Meyers raised was a pellet gun.
There's so much that Salem Police did wrong here.
Meyers was in his car, hemmed in by police vehicles, in a park that he considered his home, since Meyers was living in his car at the park. There was no danger to other people. There was no danger to police officers if they'd shown even a bit of compassion and common sense.
The officers could have stayed back, speaking to Meyers through a loudspeaker. If they were incapable of talking respectfully and calmly to Meyers, they could have brought in someone more experienced who could do that.
If Meyers refused to get out of his car, they could have told him, "OK. We'll wait until you're ready." Until morning. Until the next night. For as long as it took. How long is too long to wait to save someone's life? How long is too long to wait to deescalate a problem with a mentally ill homeless man?
Answer for the Salem Police Department: any wait is too long.
They rushed toward Meyers' car right away, yelling orders. When an officer wrongly believed he saw a dangerous gun in the car, he fired immediately. Then two other officers joined in, hitting him five times and firing twelve shots.
All for no good reason. Richard Meyers would be alive today if the four Salem police officers hadn't rushed to an erroneous judgement that Meyers was armed and dangerous. Actually, he had a pellet gun and was suicidal.
If Police Chief Womack doesn't use this tragedy to discipline the four officers and make it clear to the rest of his force that being homeless and mentally ill shouldn't be a death sentence, this will show that the Salem Police Department is just like so many other departments in our country: staffed and run by incompetent, cruel officers imbued with an outmoded "shoot first, think later" mentality.
Womack wants more officers added to his department. Citizens should utter a big loud "No way!" to that idea. At a minimum, the Salem Police Department needs to prove that its officers are competent in handling situations with mentally ill and homeless people.
A Salem Reporter story adds some details to what reportedly happened, such as:
Dash camera footage from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office shows the scene following the shooting as police repeatedly order Meyers to get out of the car.
A man, presumably Meyers, responds, “I can’t” and at one point says, “I can’t breathe, I’m dying.”
“Meyers appeared injured and in pain, and sometimes even responded to the officers’ commands stating that he was unable to show his hands,” according to the statement. He later got out of his car and fell to the ground, where officers got him “safely in custody” and then began medical aid.
Preliminary toxicology results from Meyers autopsy showed he had methamphetamine in his system, the statement said.
Keep in mind that the Salem Police Department doesn't use officer cameras, so most or much of what the officers say can't be verified. Earlier in the stop Meyers' supposedly said: “(Expletive) you! You’re going to have to shoot me! Shoot me mother (expletive)! Shoot me! Shoot me!”
Well, that's what they did.
Combine incompetent, poorly trained police with a mentally ill homeless man who, according to the Statesman Journal story, had told people about wanting to commit suicide, saying that he wanted law enforcement to shoot him, and you've got a tragedy that will keep on recurring until we reform how policing is done in Salem.
Richard Meyers would still be alive in most of the world, especially advanced countries with much less militaristic approaches to policing.
The United States has so many police shootings/killings because we've been willing to allow police to behave like wanna-be combat soldiers who view their fellow citizens suspected of a crime as enemies deserving of harsh treatment rather than as fellow human beings who deserve the same "protect and serve" as everybody else.
The Salem Reporter had an excellent story about Richard Meyers, "Man who died after confrontation with Salem police was homeless, had lifelong mental illness, family says." It's so tragic that his life was cut short by such a needless killing at the hands of Salem police.