• Wes Hazard

I don't want to be a connoisseur of death footage

Updated: Feb 7



City releases body camera video showing shooting of Andre' Hill by Columbus police officer Adam Coy


It is a testament to both the general national chaos of America in the last few months and the tragically routine nature of state violence against Black Americans that I only just heard of the police murder of Andre Hill in Columbus, OH.


It occurred just this past December, a few days before Christmas, and unlike so many instances where the police manage to dodge and evade for months or years the awful bodycam footage (which shows outright that this was indeed a thoroughly unjustified *murder* of an innocent man) was released within a day.


At this point in my life I've seen so many videos of police killings that it's like a kind of dismal "genre" in my head and I can pick out variations & tropes & idiosyncrasies in each example without having to think about it. If you can handle it I'd encourage to watch it because it stands out in a lot of ways. Of course don't watch it if you don't think you're up to it. It's not particularly graphic as far as these go but it is sad and infuriating in the way they all are. What separates this is how much of the aftermath you get from the officer's perspective which is really notable here.

  • This is maybe the hardest-to-watch black man being killed by the police video I’ve seen after that of George Floyd. The moaning. This man's death rattles. How he did nothing wrong and never even had the chance to even really comprehend what was happening to him.

  • The inhumanity of both of the 2 cops who made initial contact with him offering zero medical attention. They show up, he is shot, and within 15 seconds it's clear that he has no weapon, poses no threat, and is in grave condition. I mean, the cop who fires doesn’t even really search for a gun because he almost immediately perceives that there is none. It is so evident that he very quickly realizes how wrong he's been and how indefensible this will be. And they just stand around waiting for backup, not looking at the gurgling man on the ground whose life they've stolen.

  • The total silence in the aftermath with both of the 2 cops saying hardly a word. His partner definitely knows he’s fucked but doesn’t want to incriminate either of them on the bodycam that's still rolling.

  • Around 4:50 the officer who fired develops a hacking “I know I just fucked up and murdered a totally innocent man and it’s on camera and I can’t make this look clean and my life is over” cough/wretch. It lasts for a while and is such a weird visceral reaction to observe secondhand. Like, we see and hear everything the officer does over these 13 minutes but we can't see him, just the perspective of a camera strapped to his chest.

  • Again, it is SO APPARENT that he knows he’s fucked. None of his colleagues are really talking to him (they know his cam is still recording) and he’s not trying to explain clinically his version of the events like cops so often do on these tapes, right over the body of the victim. I mean he’s basically puking. I guess that's part of what made this such compelling viewing. Given that I've, tragically, seen so much of this exact kind of footage this one stands out as so different because the cop knows he did something that can't be righted or justified. (Though his defense attorney will for damned sure try).

  • His colleague at 8:30 basically counseling silence (again, everyone is aware his cam is till rolling). And officer Coy saying “I’m trying to figure out what I missed”.

  • 10:10 and 13:05 his buddy displaying that it’s a priority that the camera be turned off. Neither Coy or anyone around him can behave naturally until they know the cameras are off, it lends this weird atmosphere to the whole thing that is simultaneously authentic and disingenuous. What a sad and fascinating watch.

As wild is that the footage was released so soon it is equally unusual to see that this officer was speedily fired and, just this week, actually charged with murder. It really just shows the degree to which this was unjustifiable. If there were even a hint of doubt he'd be on paid leave right now with his police "union" rep giving conferences about "the difficulty of the job" or how "we need to let the facts come out". I have a lot of reservations about the mass adoption of body cameras for cops, and what that might mean for the erosion of rights and privacy in over-policed communities, in this instance the footage is all that lead to punishment for this officer. While he has been charged his attorney is still trying his best on that front.


Two quotes from this piece stood out to me:


Former Columbus Police Officer Is Charged With Murder - NYT


“Police officers have to make these split-second decisions, and they can be mistaken,” said Mr. Collins, who said Mr. Hill was actually holding a keychain. “If they are mistaken, as long as there’s an honest belief and that mistake is reasonable, the action is justified.”


[Ummmmm. How is this "justification" not just a recipe for consequence-free police murder whenever a cop feels like it??? As a basic rule of epistemology it is literally IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to ever know with certainty what anyone else is thinking or feeling at any given moment. As such it is not possible to conclusively refute an assertion that someone "feared for their life" or thought someone else "represented a threat"... in other words to claim that they did not have an "honest belief" about the appropriateness of a given action.


That is to say: If a cop killing an unarmed man who posed no threat is justified as long as the cop really believed that he was threat, and we can never prove that the cop didn't really believe that, then killing an unarmed black man who posed no threat is always justified. I mean, I didn't go to law school or anything but I can explain the plot of Interstellar so I'm pretty confident this is all just reprehensible bullshit....]


...


The body camera footage of the shooting shows Mr. Coy and one other officer responding to a call about a suspicious S.U.V. parked in a residential area. As they approach a garage and shine a flashlight inside, Mr. Hill walks slowly toward them with what appears to be a cellphone. Within seconds, Mr. Coy opens fire and Mr. Hill falls to the ground.


[I'd really love to know which white neighbor's unexamined knee-jerk fear of Black people indirectly led to this man's death. In case you haven't lived and watched the news in America for long enough: a suburban neighborhood's report of a "suspicious SUV" just means there was a black man in a big vehicle. That's literally it. I mean, ask yourself: HOW can an SUV even be "suspicious"??? What does that mean? I get that there are a lot of tight-knit communities out there where a resident would be likely to notice a car they'd never seen before. But unless you hear screaming in the vicinity, or there are bullet holes in hood, or there's an "I AM A MURDERER" bumper sticker on the rear fender what actual detail could possess a person to think "wow, that Rav 4 is kinda suspect!". I mean what would your nosy, prying, trifling, soon-to-be-an-accessory-to-murder ass even say to the cops when you make that call? How do you keep a straight face? "Hi, 9-1-1?! There's a Ford Explorer out here, but not like a regular one, it's a *suspicious* one, and I think it really means business, please hurry!!!!"


And why would the cops even come to check it out??? [I mean I know it's because the police literally exist to control Black movement and behavior and uphold white supremacy and white comfort via state sanctioned violence and surveillance] but what is like the on-paper reason you give for investigating this report? Like, someone's scared of a car they haven't seen before and we should go and confirm that yes, it's just a car and not like Ted Bundy's personal chauffeur or something?". Nah, this was a classic case of "there's a Black guy in this neighborhood and I don't like it one bit, please Mr. Policeman, make it stop."]

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