LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

We Agree Mr. Hawpe...

David Hawpe, a columnist for the Courier-Journal, is well known for his liberal editorials and commentary. His writings, in my opinion, often criticize and condemn the actions of police without the benefit of knowing all the facts. Therefore it is not surprising that police officers express some contempt for the commentary Mr. Hawpe chooses to publish.

But every so often the planets align, pigs fly and officers agree with the opinions of Mr. Hawpe…

'Shoot first' law is already morphing into 'shoot after' they run away

By David Hawpe

Since when does the Rev. Louis Coleman endorse street justice?

Since when does he help make a hero out of somebody who shoots at people who are running away?

After a recent incident involving James Wilson, it took Coleman little or no time to conclude that the West End liquor store owner was justified in shooting two people who, by Wilson's own account, were fleeing the scene of an assault and attempted robbery.

Wilson's "life was in danger," the director of the Justice Resource Center concluded, and "it was appropriate" for him to shoot his assailants in the back and legs.

This is the same Coleman who concluded, equally quickly, that Louisville police office McKenzie Mattingly committed a grave injustice in 2004 when he shot and killed 19-year-old Michael Newby, a fleeing drug suspect. In less than 24 hours, Coleman was praying with the Newby family and scheduling a meeting to plan an action strategy.

He wanted a special prosecutor because, he charged,Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel "doesn't indict police officers." Mattingly was in fact put on trial, and acquitted, but lost his job as a policeman.

A member of the Fairness Campaign, Kristi Papailler, said at the time, "I hope (Police Chief Robert White) doesn't come back to us with some justified homicide." Coleman predicted just that, scoffing, "It will be business as usual."

His Justice Resource Center was among the activist groups that pushed Mayor Jerry Abramson for a new civilian review board to look at police disciplinary cases. They charged the police department's use-of-force policy was "not working."

They have not been heard from, concerning the street justice administered last week by James Wilson.

Whether he broke the law will depend, at least in part, whether the new "shoot first" law passed by the Kentucky General Assembly lets him take matters, and weapons, into his own hands -- whether the fleeing men whom he shot are deemed to have been engaged in a continuing felony; whether he believed that, though his assailants were running away, his life was still in danger.

Coleman has decided. He already has awarded Wilson a certificate for "standing his ground." He praised the "81-year-old man who was not going to be bullied," and cheered his "message to the younger generation that, if you try to abuse me, I will retaliate."

There is a civilian review panel for cases like this. It's called a grand jury. It could decide whether Wilson's actions are lawful.

But I guess the National Rifle Association already joins Coleman in applauding. It has pushed "shoot first" all over the country. Its spokesman said, when the Kentucky version passed, "We believe that victims of crime ought to have as many options as possible."

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, was closer to the truth. He said, "Instead of thinking through or working through or using discretion in terms of using deadly force, that's not going to be the consideration any more." That can be true no matter who is wielding the gun: a police officer or a crime victim.

Kentucky was the nation's first frontier. But you'd think we could get past the "shoot first" mentality after a couple of centuries of civilizing.

A spokesman explained why Gov. Ernie Fletcher would sign such a bill: It "affirms the age-old rule of law that a person has the right to protect themselves and family members from an unwanted intruder who means to do them harm."

In other words, if you think you're in trouble, shoot first and find out for sure later.

A scriptwriter for one of those two-reel B westerns couldn't have put it better.