Were Police Justified in Shooting Kajieme Powell?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 21 2014 10:22 AM

Were Police Justified in Shooting Kajieme Powell?

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A protestor Wednesday in Ferguson, where the night passed with no notable incidents of violence.

Photo by Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images

The St. Louis Police Department's release of video showing the Tuesday killing of 25-year-old Kajieme Powell by two officers has set off discussion of whether the decision to shoot Powell was justified. Initial police accounts of the incident said that Powell was holding a knife in an "overhand grip," had moved to within 3 or 4 feet of responding officers, and was acting erratically. The Huffington Post writes that the video "appears at odds" with that account:

... the newly released cell phone footage undermines the statement, showing Powell approaching the cops, but not coming as close as was reported, with his hands at his side. The officers began shooting within 15 seconds of their arrival, hitting Powell with a barrage of bullets.
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In the video, several other people are standing near Powell and don't appear to be obviously in fear for their lives. Officers pull their vehicle up close to him and begin shooting soon after getting out of their car with guns drawn. Writes Vox:

The footage is horrifying to watch, in part for the speed with which it turns from comic to tragic. It begins with a man chuckling over Powell's erratic — but seemingly harmless — behavior. Seconds later, Powell is dead.

On the other side of the argument, it's inarguable that Powell refused officers' orders to drop his knife and then moved toward them. A source told CNN's Jake Tapper that police act under the assumption that a suspect armed with a knife standing within 20 feet will be able to wound them if their weapons are not already drawn:

A representative of the St. Louis Police Officers Association told St. Louis Public Radio the video is "exculpatory."* Watch the footage on YouTube here.

Correction, Aug. 21, 2014: This post originally misspelled St. Louis Police Officers Association.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

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