WARNING: DISTRESSING VIDEO BELOW
Officers Kill Man Suffering Mental Health Crisis
(NY) – The killing of Kawaski Trawick happened back in 2019 but as is usual with the New York Police Department, evidence was hidden for as long as they could get away with it. Just recently, the video of the shooting was released and it shows a much different story than what NYPD originally claimed.
On April 15, Mr. Trawick was having a mental health crisis and had accidentally locked himself out of his apartment. He called the fire department and said there was a fire in the building. Yes, this is a crime, but it’s unlikely that someone in his condition could have been convicted for it. The firemen arrived, opened the door for Mr. Trawick and left. Mr. Trawick dealt with the firemen in a congenial manner and even waved good-bye to them. Then the police came.
Police officers who had responded to a possible fire were talking to building staff and were infomed that Trawick had been banging on the doors of various residents. Their immediate assumption was that he was on drugs. The officers approached Mr. Trawick’s door and knocked. He does not answer but the door opens a bit, catching on the chain latch. An officer pushes the door open, popping the chain off its latch. I am not an attorney but this seems to me that it might qualify as forcible entry into a residence without probable cause. Within two minutes, Mr. Trawick was dead.
Media Bias in Reporting
Before I go further into this story I would like to mention the media bias, in favor of law enforcement, that frequently happens when reporting stories. Mr. Trawick has been reported in the media as “…in his underwear, a fitted sleeveless jacket and cowboy boots. He is holding a bread knife and a long stick.” This description immediately sets Mr. Trawick up in a negative light. I don’t mean to pick on ProPublica, its an excellent publication and they are not the only ones who have reported it this way, they’re just the article I am using.
According to the YouTube video below, Mr. Trawick is “a personal trainer and hoped to become a professional dancer.” What I see when I look at the video is a man wearing a large, sleeveless overcoat that reaches past his knees almost to the top of his boats. He may be in underwear, but if so, they’re boxer shorts and look like regular shorts. He is carrying a long walking stick, but it’s not until officers barge into his apartment that he is holding a knife and he says he has it because he was cooking.
We don’t know why Mr. Trawick left his apartment, but it’s obvious he wasn’t planning on being locked out of his apartment. So what if he threw on the nearest coat that came to hand. Maybe he was just planning on stepping out of the building for only a moment. And I can think of reasons why he would have the stick. Maybe there are vicious dogs in the area. Or maybe there occassionally are punks who assault people. Regardless, that stick could have been meant for self-defense just in case the unexpected happened. None of those things, how he was dressed, the stick he was carrying, are justification for shooting a person, but can definitely be used by the media to portray a person as crazy and dangerous.
Officers, Trained to de-Escalate, Escalate Situation
Supposedly the New York Police Department has implemented training that teaches officers how to de-escalate a situation. But according to ProPublica.com,
“…while officers’ use of deadly force has generally trended downward, mental health advocates from the nonprofit Community Access said that since the NYPD started its current de-escalation training five years ago, at least 16 people who were experiencing a mental health crisis, including Trawick, have been killed by the police. That’s twice as many killings as in the preceding five years. Fourteen have been people of color.”
People with mental illnesses are being killed twice as much since the de-escalation training?! What the hell?! We can see some of the attempts at de-escalation in the Black officer, Herbert Davis. We see absolutely none in the White officer, Brendan Thompson. Officer Davis makes several attempts to discourage Officer Thompson’s efforts to resort to force. However, Davis, also, makes mistakes in his handling of the situation. Since Mr. Trawick is in a confined space they could have closed the door and called for medical help.
Instead, they refused to answer Mr. Trawick’s questions as to why they were in his apartment and eventually tased him to make him comply. It wasn’t until he was tased that Mr. Trawick attacked the officers. Remember, Mr. Trawick had absolutely no problems in dealing with the firemen who were congenial toward him.
Boggy Area Around Justified Shooting
The NYPD immediately said this was a justified shooting like they do with all police violence, and in this case, if you take a snapshot in time, it probably is justified. Mr. Trawick did have a knife. He did attack the officers. If you are only allowed to look at that snapshot, it appears that the officers were correct, but once you know the whole story, you know that the officers escalated the situation, the call of ‘justified shooting’ starts becoming questionable.
There needs to be a way to quantify how much the officers contributed to the final outcome. Obviously, ‘did they follow their training?’ should be high on the list. But there are so many other factors. The officers had made an erroneous judgment of what they were facing before they ever made contact. For whatever reason, they never considered a mental health issue. Their chosen reason put them in the mindset of Mr. Trawick being a criminal, a druggie, a highly dangerous and unstable person. That would automatically increase the possibility of them resorting to force. Dynamics like this need to be addressed and officers need to be held accountable for causing a situation.
But there is a flip side to that. An officer can show that he followed policy, that he did everything he could to de-escalate a situation and avoid a deadly force outcome, and there will still always be someone who felt he could have done more. While I honestly feel officers do need to be reined in, they still need to be able to protect themselves without worrying that some minute mistake will land them in jail. If you’re looking for absolute perfection in a highly stressful, dangerous situation, you have no real concept of what it’s like to actually deal with one of these situations.
Determining the effect of the actions leading up to a shooting won’t be easy and there will no way to satisfy everyone when those decisions come out, but it’s necessary that we stop using the ‘snapshot in time’ method of judging use of force, particularly deadly force, by police officers.
One thing I do know for sure, being mentally ill should not be justification for a death sentence.