How New York should handle Ahmadinejad’s proposed visit to Ground Zero

Much cyber-ink was spilled today about Ahmadinejad’s insistence that he visit Ground Zero. The upset, of course, was that we knew he wanted to go there, not to mourn, but to gloat. As it is, the matter was a tempest in a teapot, since his request was denied.  (But see the update, below.)

Next time the matter arises, though (and it will), I do have a suggestion for how to handle the visit. My idea comes from a story I heard about Teddy Roosevelt’s tenure as president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners. I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but if it isn’t, it should be.

The story goes that, while Teddy occupied this position, a famous German anti-Semite came to speak in New York. Because he was such an incendiary speaker, and because he was journeying to a City that already had a huge Jewish population, the German man demanded police protection. Despite the outcry from people who would rather have seen the man stopped at the border, or left to his own devices on New York’s hostile streets, Teddy agreed to the man’s request. The German and his followers were convinced they had emerged victorious, until the morning when the German’s police protection appeared. It turned out that each of the armed men surrounding him was a Jewish police officer. The story ends there, but one has to assume that the man spent his entire visit haunted by the fear that, if someone were to attack him, his guard would be slow, very slow, to protect him.

So, perhaps, if Bloomberg eventually feels compelled to allow Ahmadinejad to visit the site, the mayor should make sure the assembled guard is composed of Jewish police officers or officers who are refugees from the Iranian revolution.

UPDATE: Whoops. Seems it’s back on again, so apparently my idea is still in play. Anyone in government listening?

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Second guessing cops

I’ve taken a news story and put the facts in a different order.  The story essentially starts with the last point, and organizes the facts based on that point.  I’ve put the last point last, because it’s an after-the-fact conclusion that should not color the report.  I wonder if you’ll agree with my understand of the facts, and think that, at the very least, the reporter got ahead of himself with his upfront conclusion. 

What police knew:

[Richard] Desantis, who lived with his wife and two young children in a Santa Rosa, had fired about 10 pistol rounds into the ceiling of his home before Santa Rosa police officers showed up at his door at about 1:19 a.m.

***

Desantis’ wife, Patricia, had called the county’s 911 dispatch center and asked for help, saying that her husband had fired shots into the attic with his handgun because he thought he heard strangers’ voices. She said her husband was bipolar, and had stopped taking his medication.

Minutes later, police officers arrived and found the couple in the driveway — along with two young children.

Police said Desantis’ wife was holding her 2-year-old girl in her arms and yelling at the officers that this was a mental health problem. Officers ordered Richard Desantis to the ground.

***

Police investigators said Desantis also used methamphetamine.

***

According to the police, Soares used a nonlethal weapon to fire a 3-inch-long plastic projectile at Desantis’ lower body to stop his assault. The projectile apparently broke Desantis’ arm, but he continued charging at three of the officers. Celli, Mann and Menke each fired one round. Two bullets struck Desantis in the torso, stopping his advance.

An ambulance crew said Desantis was dead at the scene. Detectives later recovered one rifle and two handguns from inside the home, including the one used to shoot into the ceiling.  

What police may or may not have known:

“She had disarmed him before the cops were there,” [Eric] Safire [the wife’s attorney] said. “She said, I got the gun, I got the gun. … I can’t say whether they heard her. He gets down on his knees with his hands up, then for some unknown reason advances toward them in some fashion.”   (Emphasis mine.)

What police are being accused of doing (per the opening paragraph in the news report):

A Santa Rosa ironworker was unarmed and in need of medication for bipolar disorder when he charged police and was shot dead early Monday in the driveway of his home, officials said Wednesday.

The death of Richard Desantis, 30, marks the second use of lethal force in four weeks by law enforcement officers in Sonoma County against a person with some form of mental illness.

In the earlier case, a 16-year-old Sebastopol boy was shot dead on March 12 by sheriff’s deputies who were called to his home after he threatened to kill his 6-year-old brother.

A lawyer representing Desantis’ widow asserted that both shootings were unjustified. “Evidently, the (police) training in Sonoma County is not effective,” said attorney Eric Safire of San Francisco.

It’s entirely possible that police may have overracted.  It’s just as likely though, that things played out another way.  Police knew as they approached the property that a deranged man was firing guns wildly, with young children nearby.  He was in front of the property when they arrived and, I have no doubt, they repeatedly yelled at him to get down.  Meanwhile, his wife was also screaming (and I bet the children were screaming, too).  The man partially complied, and then, this same man who had been reported as firing guns within his home, lunged at them.  He was undeterred by a warning, non-lethal shot.  So they shot again, and again.  In other words, based on the exact facts reported in this story under the opening opinion accusing the police of malfeasance, there’s very good evidence that, on the ground, without Monday morning quarterbacking, the police responded appropriate to a volatile and apparently dangerous situation.

As it is, it’s a terrible tragedy for a family whose mentally ill, drug abusing father was shot down in front of them.  That doesn’t mean, though, that it was the fault of the police that the situation ended as it did.