On Crime and Punishment and Politics.


(I hope I didn’t mess up anyone’s plans, if I did, yell at me in the comments and I owe you Ramones coffee. Thank you TE! for the heads up)

Today  WEDNESDAY at 2:30, Sgt Stevens of the Eureka Police Department will be promoted to Captain at the Wharfinger.  Sgt Stevens was the officer in charge the night Tommy McClain, and innocent bystander, home, not completely sober, was killed by one of our peace officers.  There will be a protest of this outside of the Warfinger, and I will stand with them.  Here is why.

This is an inherently political issue with familiar political dividing lines in Eureka.  Here is where we all agree –  x minutes before his death Tommy McClain had done nothing to warrant his death.

On it’s own, the killing is not a crime, it’s a tragic, wholly unnecessary and unjust killing, but it’s not murder, and Sgt Stevens as the officer in charge that night was not an “architect “of murder.  We know this now and we will know this on the official record when this is all said and done.

Having said that, I think we should also all agree that we can do more to clarify the rules of the game for our police officers.  We should also understand that Eureka is not alone in this fight.  This is something we do need to bring to our local leaders in Eureka who will include Natalie Arroyo soon and hopefully Kim Bergel who will be more amenable to hearing criticism from the general public of our force than previous councilmembers outside of Linda Atkins.

However, we should also be working with state and national groups and leaders because as even the simple task of trying to determine the number of police killings will demonstrate – we are not keeping good records of both justified and unjustified killings.

If we as a society are going to start addressing these emotion-laden incidents, we have to understand we are going to have to do it with some emotional distance*.  I think this starts by on the one hand understanding and allowing for the incredible dilemma our peace officers  have to deal with each shift.  On the other hand, those defending our peace officers have to allow that they may not experience the often justifiable fear and contempt many innocent non-criminals in our community have against our force based on treatment based on their net worth, physical appearance, dwelling location, etc.  From my experience, these fears and concerns are legitimate, and they they lead to a counterproductive and ultimately dangerous distrust of our force.

The great majority of us support our peace officer’s difficult mission and appreciate to no end the work they do to keep us safe under often life-threatening conditions.  Their courage and personal sacrifice limits the number of times we and our neighbors are victims.  However, what I and many out at the Wharfinger today will be saying is we must do better, and when mistakes are made, we do expect remorse, we do expect more than a modicum of  justice and we do expect real changes to be made.  A promotion months after a killing of someone who should have been an innocent bystander is not an auspicious indication that our public force is treating Tommy’s death with the concern it deserves given that it seems the force itself will be the judge and jury of Tommy’s killing.

Some thoughts that express what I’m feeling better than I can…

From an anonymous commenter on the Tuluwat Examiner yesterday:

…This unfortunate occurrence hit the heart of the city. I respect law enforcement and Chief Mills they face difficult decisions protecting the general public and that takes courage.    Although when a senseless shooting happens due to an officer’s inability to rely on his training. The leaders of our city must have the courage to do what is morally right. When accepting responsibility there are no easy answers. But it’s necessary to exhibit personal accountability
consequently or unconsequently the Eureka police department have done their very best not to speak on the fact. They present themselves in the best possible light. They have shown no concern to the victim’s family or to the people of Humboldt County also it’s just straight crazy to allow the law enforcement agency of Humbolt to call the shots  in an investigation of their own officers  senselessly  shooting civilians.  Sometimes standing against the wrong doing of law enforcement is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives.
We need someone that stands for justice to take a personal interest in this matter. And the courage to do what is right.


And the following from a NCJ letter to the editor amplified by the TE.

My trust in Eureka Police Department has been severely damaged by the shooting death of the young man Tommy McClain (“Unanswered,” Oct. 9). It was tragic because it seemed so unnecessary. All the decisions that led to his death need a serious, unbiased review. Only a civil suit against EPD (if there is one) will in my mind provide an honest account of what happened. Every material action except McClain’s apparent decision “to go for the gun” was made by EPD. However, EPD’s facts around that claim have serious credibility problems. Did McClain receive contradictory orders (“drop the gun” versus “keep your hands up”)? Did he have a hearing disability? I am not as sanguine about the tragic incident as EPD Chief Mills. EPD’s conclusion that the shooting was justified cannot be trusted….

Peter DeAndreis, Eureka

There will not be a crime associated with Tommy’s killing, I think that is clear.  Should their be punishment?  I think most in Eureka would agree that there should be and this should at the very least start with not promoting Sgt. Stevens at this particular moment.

One Resource and One Hedge:

*  I do think there is a place for righteous anger and protest.  If it is true, as it seems clear it is, that there are different systems of justice for different classes of citizens (ie based on distinctions such as race or wealth), then I do think anger, protest, demonstrations are effective and necessary.   However, I don’t think this is something that will change minds in Eureka’s electorate.  Having said that, Eureka’s electorate does believe in justice, and I think this is another in a string of recent incidents in Eureka’s history that demonstrates a pattern of civil injustice.  We have to be very careful though as we also have more than our share of people willing to commit crimes.  This is why we have to remain as dispassionate as possible to insure we are offering and promoting a task which is obtainable for our peace officers.

538 on Nobody Knows How Many Americans The Police Kill Each Year.


2 thoughts on “On Crime and Punishment and Politics.

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