More than a few unasked questions about the incident in the capitol

The incident with the woman who seems to have tried to ram a security barrier in D.C. this afternoon already has significant problems. There are retractable security barriers in the roadway around the Capitol that can be raised in an emergency to stop traffic by force. One police cruiser ran through one going 40 or 50mph and was destroyed by it.

Apparently most of them weren’t raised until the woman’s car had made it all the way down to the Supreme Court, and it’s not at all clear yet if they stopped her even there, or if it was something else.

There’s one really important aspect of all of this that I doubt will be addressed for days, if at all, because people will fall into old patterns of heart-first-brain-last behavior. Our tendency to rally around others and praise them to excess ends up turning off critical thinking skills far too often.

It’s troubling that the Capitol Police fired their weapons into a car occupied by a child, more than once, until they successfully killed an unarmed driver. Before you jump to their defense by arguing that a car qualifies as a deadly weapon, I agree, but there are exceptions to that guided by common sense.

My understanding is that local police won’t fire at a vehicle unless it’s headed straight for them. In many states, there are policies that forbid the police from even following a vehicle if speeds become unsafe, short of maybe a kidnapping.

There are dozens of dangerous car chases across the nation every day, and few of them — if any — end in a deadly shootout with an unarmed driver.

And while things can change, I’ve yet to see anything that would explain or justify what happened. I’m worried that this incident could have been nothing more than a car accident in a very sensitive area of the Capitol. Car accidents can be unnerving. I know, I’ve been in a few myself. I’m trying to imagine what it’d be like to then be rushed by two dozen people aiming their guns at me, and I can imagine being so frightened and overwhelmed that the instinct to run is impossible to overcome. Especially once the bullets started flying. At that point they are trying to kill you, and you’ve got a toddler in the car.

That behavior isn’t all that uncommon. Someone gets pulled over on the highway for a minor traffic violation, and then takes off because they have a bong under their seat, and end up in a two hour chase involving five different police departments, dozens of police cars, helicopters, and possibly a bad wreck at the end that lands them in prison for 10 years instead of eating a $50 fine.

It happens. People do inexplicable things when they are scared and under great stress.

I really hope that wasn’t the case today, but I’m not seeing any other better explanation just yet.

Update
The few bits that came out since I wrote this post last night have actually made things worse. The woman, Miriam Carey, got out of her car at the end of the chase and only then was she shot to death. Since we know she wasn’t armed, even if the initial Capitol Police response of firing into a car with a child in it that did nothing more than apparently “bump” a steel barrier was appropriate — and it’s hard to see how it was — it’s even harder to see how their actions at the end of it all don’t amount to an execution.

I haven’t read every comment on this Washington Post story, but I’ve read quite a few, and most people are thinking along the lines of this post. Some witnesses say that Carey didn’t try to “ram” any barriers, that she just “bumped” one, then accidentally hit a Capitol Police or Secret Service agent who had positioned himself directly behind her car, and then the police and Secret Service simply opened fire on her car, and she fled to protect herself and her child.

I saw a clip of a standing ovation that Congress gave the Capitol Police and Secret Service on the news this morning, and it gave me a really sick feeling in my stomach. More than ever, it looks like this woman had a simple accident, and panicked when excessive deadly force was used.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

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