Police Kill Man Trying to Commit Suicide

Hey guys, I haven't written any new posts in a week because I haven't had anything I wanted to write about. Or rather, all the things I've been writing about are parts of much larger projects than my normal blog posts. I don't want to go too long without posting anything though, so I thought I'd give a bit of a teaser about one of the things I'm working on.

Now part of the reason for the timing of this is because I wanted to talk to the people whose work I'm criticizing before posting anything. I sent them an e-mail asking about the concerns I had, and I got a pretty quick response. I then followed up on the e-mail to point out the answers they gave to my questions indicated there were problems with their work. I haven't heard from them since. It may just be a coincidence, but if they are blowing me off, I'd rather not sit and wait indefinitely.

So I'd like to begin the discussion. Since this is just a teaser, I'm not going to name any names or link to the work in question. People can probably figure out what work this is in reference to, but that's unavoidable if we want to talk about the hilarity of the situation.

You see, some people have decided to try to keep track of how many people police in the United States kill. One of the greatest examples they give is Nicholas Gilbert, a man who the police supposedly killed while... he was trying to commit suicide.

I kid you not. That's their claim. They include Gilbert in their list with this description of how he died:

Gilbert was in a temporary holding cell in police custody when he tried to hang himself, police said. Officers who tried to stop Gilbert from hurting himself began struggling with him, according to authorities. Gilbert had trouble breathing after the struggle and died shortly after, police said.

Now a person might think a man who died after trying to kill himself might have died because... of his attempt to kill himself. I can, however, understand the possibility police were the ones responsible. The police could have, in theory, interrupted Gilbert's attempt to hang himself to death and perhaps bashed his skull in during the struggle. That would count as them killing him, though I'm not sure any moral statements could be made based off it.

The problem is, nothing in this description indicates the police had any responsibility for the death. The description implies the police were to since it is a description in a list of people the police killed, but there's nothing more than implication. Well, implication and two links to news articles. I'm going to focus on the one story since it is the more detailed of the two, but the other story doesn't contradict it in any way.

As a quick aside, I want to point out these stories indicate this incident happened in St. Louis, which is only about an hour away from me. That's a bit of an added bonus to me. Though really, the fact the news articles say things like:

Dr. Jane Turner, an assistant medical examiner who performed the autopsy, said Gilbert’s injuries were “consistent with a struggle” but not a beating, and they were not fatal. She said he suffered from coronary artery disease which is a “possible” cause of death, but she cannot be certain until after results of toxicology tests, the examination of microscopic slides as well as police reports of the incident.

Should be enough on its own. A man tried to kill himself, the police intervened and there was a struggle. Afterwards, a medical examiner said the injuries caused by the struggle were non-fatal. And yet, this is provided as an example of the police killing a man.

Now, I'd understand if perhaps someone didn't trust the official story. I'd understand if they listed this as something to further investigate, to see if maybe the medical examiner were wrong. But it is utterly absurd to say the police killed this man while liking to a story where the medical examiner says things like:

“I understand the family’s concerns, and that’s why we’re investigating this death as best we can,” Turner said. “At this point, we don’t know the cause of death and we have to do a thorough investigation and need the police reports in addition to getting toxicology results and slides.”

And there is nothing to contradict her claim. If a firefighter runs into a burning building to try to save a man's life and manages to gets the man out only to have the man die anyway, nobody would say the firefighter killed him simply because he was there. That's all this is. This is given as an example of the police killing people for no reason other than the fact the police tried to intervene and save this man's life.

So when you read things like:

Of the 1,134 people killed, about one in five were unarmed but another one in five fired shots of their own at officers before being killed.

You might want to consider your sources. That number (which has since been revised up to 1,138 as more cases were added) doesn't necessarily tell you as much as you might think. Sure, one in five may have been unarmed, but how many actually died because they were trying to kill themselves? (And no, this isn't the only one.)

As something of a teaser for another fun thing included in this list, you should keep something in mind. When you're out and about, odds you aren't going to stumble onto the police firing range and have a police officer's accident with his firearm result in you getting shot and killed. But if you do, you'll get included in lists like this.

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