Aerial surveillance video has been released of the traffic stop that resulted in the death of LaVoy Finicum and the arrest of several other activists. If you haven't yet seen it, here's a link.
I have several problems with the release of this video footage and the reactions to it I've so far seen.
- Why was only aerial footage released? Surely the vehicles and FBI agents involved in the traffic stop had dash- and body cameras running? If they didn't, it was the height of irresponsibility by the authorities, who must undoubtedly have known that such a traffic stop would be scrutinized to a fare-thee-well by both supporters and opponents of the principals involved. To release only long-distance footage that doesn't show the action 'up close and personal' is almost worse than releasing no footage at all. It leaves a great deal open to speculation and personal interpretation.
- Many of the reactions I've so far seen to the video have been partisan: "My mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts!" I've seen some claims that Mr. Finicum was reaching for his waistband or pocket, in what appeared to be an attempt to get his hands on a gun, before he was shot. Others have claimed that he was shot by the FBI, and was reaching for the site of the injury in a natural, instinctive 'pain reaction' when he was shot again and killed. It's simply not possible to tell the facts of the matter from so distant a video clip. I can see no sign on the video that anyone fired a shot before Mr. Finicum reached for his waist. On the other hand, it isn't possible to say that with any certainty from such a remote perspective.
- The law enforcement personnel involved in the stop would undoubtedly have been on edge, expecting violent resistance. After all, there are several statements on record from Mr. Finicum and others in the vehicle to the effect that they would resist arrest, including explicit threats to use violence against law enforcement officers. Furthermore, the activists' vehicle almost runs down an officer as it plows off the road into a snowbank. I accept that the driver may not have had time to avoid him - it looks as if the officer runs forward, almost into the vehicle's path - but that wouldn't prevent officers on the scene, in the heat of the moment, from interpreting it as a deliberate act. In such a high-stress environment, it may be that an officer opened fire prematurely. On the other hand, it's equally possible that Mr. Finicum did reach for his waistband before any shots were fired. If he did, given his publicly stated intention to resist arrest, then even if he didn't visibly have his hand on a gun, the response from law enforcement officers was probably inevitable.
I've already had e-mails accusing me of being a 'traitor to freedom' and other such pleasantries because I haven't stated explicitly on my blog that Mr. Finicum was shot first, before he reached for his waist. Well, I'm sorry, but I can't tell that from the evidence and video footage thus far released. As I said earlier, 'eyewitness testimony' so far available in the public domain is from partisan sources whose objectivity is at least suspect. On the basis of the evidence currently available, such as it is, I don't think anyone can say for sure what caused Mr. Finicum's death. However, people are interpreting what they see in the light of their preconceptions. They've already made up their minds. Here's one example from Wirecutter's blog.
He [Mr. Finicum] exited the vehicle with his arms up….. was floundering in the deep snow causing his arms (hands) to flail around for balance. He WAS walking towards the agent next to the road rapidly and that agent shot him in a panic causing Finicum to reach to the wound site. At that point the second agent who was hiding in the woods approached from behin[d] and shot him in the back at “point blank” range. A clear case of Murder! The agent who shot him from behind had absolutely no knowledge about where Finicum’s hands were since he could not see them. That second agent also fired his long gun without justification……….. Had Finicum wanted to go down fighting, he would have exited the vehicle with his pistol drawn and shooting aggressively. Shame…Shame!!!
I don't know how that particular commenter came to such definitive conclusions on the basis of a single, long-distance video clip. None of us were there. We haven't seen close-up video and audio recordings of the events. We simply can't tell. Nevertheless, I doubt that such evidence might change the commenter's mind. He's already convinced.
I certainly want the truth of this matter to come out. I'm profoundly disturbed by the 'Big Brother' state, verging on authoritarianism, that appears to be evolving in this country. I think that in many cases the actions of law enforcement agencies and officers have amounted to the deliberate disregard of constitutional rights and the violation of basic individual freedoms. However, I've also served in a law enforcement function, and I'm fully aware that without law enforcement, our rights and freedoms would be under grave threat from criminals and others who believe that "might makes right". It's a delicate balancing act at the best of times. At present, on the basis of the evidence available to me, I believe the balance is skewed too far towards official overreach. That perspective should be clear to anyone who's read this blog for any length of time.
Whether or not such overreach was the case in this particular incident is not yet clear. Until it is, I continue to maintain that we should not rush to judgment, but rather encourage the authorities to release more evidence and clarify the situation. If we all put pressure on our elected local, regional and national representatives to do their jobs and hold accountable the agencies for which they're legislatively responsible, I think that can be made to happen; so let's get to it. If it turns out to be a case of overreach, there are judicial and other lawful means available to ensure that justice is done. Let's use them, rather than try to provoke or promote a 'lynch mob' mentality. The latter will merely ensure that everybody loses . . . and so will freedom itself.