Diary of a Mad County

Aug. 30: Lethal

Wednesday, Aug. 30
The papers are full of pictures of outraged Orange County citizens protesting in Huntington Beach. Now, Orange County is not a place that outrages easily. The only things that rile folks are taxes and those things—property values, immigration—related to taxes. But the raised voices, signs ("She was somebody's baby") and faux bloody T-shirts reference Ashley MacDonald, a 19-year-old shot and killed by two Huntington Beach police officers the previous Friday. The officers say the 5-foot-4, 120-pound MacDonald lunged at them with a bloody knife in the early morning at Sun View Park; they say MacDonald had used the knife to slash her mother while the two were having an argument earlier in the morning. At the protest, neighborhood resident Tony Hernandez sums up the prevailing feeling: "Why are there Tasers and pepper spray if they are not even going to use them? Shooting her should have been the absolutely, absolute last resort." The Times and Reggie report that the responding officers had requested non-lethal backup, but the shooting occurred while a third officer was loading a pepper ball launcher, which sounds more like something related to muskets and Minutemen (the good kind) than an efficient, 21st-century police force. Of course, non-lethal force can be very lethal: less than a month ago, James Nunez died after being shocked with a Taser. Police said Nunez's death was not caused by the Taser. An autopsy is pending.

Thursday, Aug. 31
Local papers are asking and saying some hard things about the MacDonald shooting. A Reggie editorial says the Huntington Beach officers "overreacted." The Times' Dana Parsons says his gut tells him this was a "death that didn't need to happen." Both make it clear they understand how tough a job the police have. Parsons says something we're used to hearing from police and their defenders, something no self-respecting newsman/woman would say: we have no right to criticize police, that it doesn't "carry much weight to sit on the sidelines and say how you would have handled the situation." It's a stupid argument, because we know how we would have reacted: we would have shot Ashley MacDonald. I would have shot her with every bullet in my handgun, and then wrested my partner's gun from his hands and unloaded that one on her. And then I'd have called for backup. Which is why we're not cops. I make no bones about it: if I were a cop I'd never holster my weapon, and I'm talking never, ever—traffic stops, court appearances, photo ops with McGruff—because I haven't been trained (at taxpayers' expense) to deal with highly stressful situations. Those who have can't accept the extraordinary power given them—the power to determine life and death—and then plead they did what any untrained schlub would do. We allow the police to carry guns not because they are experts at using guns, but because they are experts at not using guns.

Friday, Sept. 1
And breathe.

Saturday, Sept. 2
Thirty-five very pissed-off chickens come home to roost at Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's Huntington Beach home. The protesters, from a group called Military Families Speak Out, put a giant mock check for an "endless war" on Rohrabacher's doorstep and then place combat boots on the grass, each with the name tag of a soldier killed in Iraq. The activists, three of whom have sons serving in Iraq, begin to chant, "Bring them home! Now!" That's when Rohrabacher comes running barefoot out of his house, screaming, "You just woke my babies!" To which Tim Kahlor, whose son is on his second tour of duty in Iraq, says, "My son is in Iraq! And he does not get much sleep!" To which Rohrabacher hisses, "Did he volunteer?" Though Rohrabacher avoids following that with "Sucka!" or "Suck on that!" or some variation of sucking something very hard, he might as well have for all the compassion his statement communicates. As Rohrabacher shows this rabble, personal toughness is what counts in the War on Terror. He said as much last June after courageously voting yes on House Resolution 861, which declared, "The United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror." (He later voted affirmatively on House Resolution 862, which declared, "This is going to be the best summer ever!") During a 10-hour debate, representatives argued over whether Bush is "awesome," "bitchen" or, as Rohrabacher insisted, "his fundament shines with the very glory of democracy." Rohrabacher, who has never served a day in the military, criticized those without the stomach for war: "I have been through this before. I worked in the White House with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and I heard some of the same shrill voices that we hear today . . . If we back down today, as is being advocated, what I consider to be a cowardly retreat, it will have consequences." I guess Rohrabacher was referring to shrill voices such as protesters Pat Alviso and Jeff Merrick—an Air Force retiree who served in Vietnam—whose son is serving in Iraq. As for cowardice, who better to speak about that than a chickenhawk who taunts the enemy with "You just woke my babies!" Osama—not to mention the garbage man—quakes.

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Sunday, Sept. 3
This wasn't the first time I'd been exposed to Dana Rohrabacher's generous nature where putting other people's children in harm's way is concerned. Back in 2003, I talked with Barbara Sandefur, who also lives in Huntington Beach and whose son, Kenny, was serving in Iraq. As the initial positive reports from Iraq turned into a steady stream of American deaths, she panicked. She wrote to Rohrabacher: "My son and the Marines have been in Iraq for over nine months now. They have done the job YOU sent them over there to do. We have continued to be lied to. We were told they would be home once they reached Baghdad. Now, five months later, they are still there being used as peacekeepers, used to guard and protect the same people YOU sent them over there to kill. When is enough enough? You have forgotten the Marines and left them there, and they need to be brought home. As an American, I am demanding answers. As a mother, I am begging for answers." Rohrabacher never responded. I guess she should consider herself lucky.

Monday, Sept. 4
Talking with the Weekly's Dave Wielenga today, and I'm reminded that, several years ago, he took part in an OC sheriff's department stunt designed to show civilians just how quickly an officer has to make life-and-death decisions. Dave was outfitted as a cop, given a partner and put into a situation with a live sheriff acting the part of Homeless Man, a situation eerily similar to Ashley MacDonald's. "He was mentally ill, or seemed to be, speaking incoherently," Dave says. "He seemed nervous, behaved unpredictably. The instant I saw him, I pulled my gun. I ordered him away from the shopping cart. He began to comply. But as I approached, he returned to the cart, ignoring my commands to stay away. There we stood for a few seconds, a few feet apart, me shouting orders while he continued to fumble through a blanket. I saw him grab a stick. I realized it was a knife. He made a quick movement. I dropped him with a single shot to the chest. Nobody accused me of acting improperly. In fact, when I lamented my hasty actions to Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, he excused me. 'What you did is a natural reaction,' Carona told me consolingly. 'That's the reason we put our deputies through all our training—to counter and avoid the natural reactions that people in law enforcement must deal with every day.'"

Tuesday, Sept. 5
I need a break. When's Labor Day?


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