The Police in Baltimore

This afternoon it happened again. An innocent black man was shot in the back as he was running away from a policeman in the same Baltimore neighborhood as the last tragedy. There were several eyewitnesses to the incident, one of whom was actually a Fox News reporter.

The reporter interviewed a woman who said that she had been standing less than 30 feet from the shooting. She related how the policeman just raised his weapon and shot the man with no warning whatsoever. She was understandably agitated but gave a calm and detailed account. The reporter said that he personally observed the incident from almost as close by.  He noted that he didn’t see the man make any threatening moves and that he saw the policeman draw his weapon. A crowd assembled around the fallen man, shouting that he had been shot in the back. Several took cellphone photos of his lifeless body to memorialize yet another atrocity by police.

Can we expect more riots tonight, and are they at least somewhat understandable?

But wait…almost none of this is true! What actually occurred was that the man was approached by a policeman who observed him carrying a weapon. The man swiftly ran away but tripped in his haste and the gun accidentally discharged. No one was struck by the shot. The man didn’t appear to be seriously injured by his mishap but he was transported to the hospital out of an abundance of caution.

When the truth finally filtered out some calm prevailed, and Fox News shamefacedly issued a correction and an apology. But in all likelihood there remain many people in the neighborhood who still believe that there was yet another police brutality.

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I don’t know what you take from this, but I think we really need to rethink the use of eyewitnesses in court. As a minimum, the judge should issue a warning that they are often unreliable. (Actually I was going to use stronger language, but I like to keep my blog posts safe for general viewing.)

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