A Seattle police officer is alive this morning because he took decisive action. Because of his actions there will be no further victims of Maurice Clemmons.
On routine patrol in a residential area of South Seattle at about 2:45 a.m., the seven year veteran, as yet unnamed, spotted a car with its hood up, its engine running. He ran the plate. The car had been stolen earlier in another part of the city.
As he sat in his vehicle doing paperwork, the officer saw a man approaching, a man he recognized as the suspect in the killings of the four Lakewood cops. The officer immediately got out of his car -- he's lucky to be alive -- and ordered Clemmons to stop. Clemmons ignored the order, which the cop repeated. As described during a middle of the night press conference, Clemmons then either sought cover behind the car, or attempted to escape. The officer shot him. Dead.
I had hoped for a different outcome.
Nothing excuses what Clemmons did in that coffee shop Sunday morning. But had he lived we might have heard something of an explanation. We might have learned, with whatever degree of clarity and certainty, even as the system worked to hold him accountable, why he did what he did. There's so much speculation: He was a sociopath, or psychotic. He was the Messiah. He hated cops, and wanted to take out as many as he could before his (likely) return to prison. He enjoyed killing, particularly (exclusively?) those in blue who, in his mind, had done him wrong. He wanted to die, suicide by cop. Perhaps out of shame for having raped a 12-year-old? All of the above, or any combination thereof?
Most who responded to my initial post on the killings were deeply saddened to learn of the deaths of the four officers, their hearts and prayers going out to their families. They worried about the effects of cop killings on society. A few of these same readers joined other, harsher critics who condemn police misconduct that contributes to built-up rage among those dealt injustices at the hands of police. Good cops who cover for bad cops. The drug war and the many harms it's caused. Others focused on guns. Or a former governor of Arkansas. Or a couple of Washington State judges.
I'll be looking at these issues in future posts. But now, I want to say to those who have jumped to condemn the Seattle police officer for killing the suspect: Put yourself in his shoes.
Clemmons, nursing a two-day old bullet wound to the stomach, having killed four cops already and facing at least life in prison, frantically searching for a way out of the state if not the country, and packing one of the dead officers' sidearms, would have beyond a shadow of doubt murdered again. There and then.
He was denied that chance. Whether Clemmons was seeking cover to pull the gun and fire, or about to flee, the officer did precisely the right thing. It was not a "cold-blooded murder," as at least one reader has asserted. It was a courageous and necessary act.