Author: Pat Pratt
While an investigation is currently underway to determine if the Columbia Police shooting Wednesday of 38-year-old James Sears III was justified under Missouri law, one aspect of it is perfectly clear.
His immediate arrest on a drug warrant was far more important to officers than the safety of the public they are sworn to protect.
Local media accounts show that at about 2:40 p.m. Sears pulled up to a gas pump at a convenience store near the intersection of Ash Street and Stadium Boulevard. It was the height of business day. Hundreds of motorists were driving nearby on two busy thoroughfares, many customers were present at the store itself and nearby schools were in session or releasing students for the day.
As Sears stood near one pump, witness accounts show four police cruisers converging on the scene to detain him, an outlay of manpower which casts further doubt on whether his arrest should have taken place in such a public venue. It also shows that police were already activally tailing him and made a conscious decision to detain an “armed and dangerous” suspect in a high-traffic area with little forethought for the safety of the citizenry.
Upon encountering officers, Sears allegedly displayed a firearm and refused commands. If true, under such circumstances officers likely would have been justified in using deadly force, which they did. Two officers, said to be with the agency’s street crimes unit, which is no stranger to controversy, opened fire, apparently from near another gas pump, killing Sears and in the process striking a trash can and a vehicle tire.
It’s not clear how many shots were fired in total, but any one of them could have struck or ricocheted into an innocent child, a parent or a loved one. The actions of officers in this incident can only be described as careless at best and at worst, in complete disregard for the lives of the people they are sworn to protect.
Officers were said to have attempted life-saving measures, but Sears was pronounced dead at the hospital. Police have not released body or surveillance camera footage of the incident, which is currently under investigation by the highway patrol.
Despite the disregard for public safety, Police Chief Geoff Jones took no questions from reporters during a subsequent presser. He did say multiple people were impacted and we need to support “each other,” a nod to the public, those on the scene and obviously shaken, as well as his officers who pulled the trigger.
"There are multiple people impacted when events like this occur and we have to find ways to support each other," Jones was quoted as saying in a city press release. "I would like to thank the citizens who patiently waited for investigators, first responders, transit employees, Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri State Highway Patrol for assisting us."
It’s unlikely those officers are losing much sleep, however, given the street crimes unit's callous disregard for humanity in its adherence to the tenants of the failed War on Drugs. Lest we forget, it was this very unit which in 2011 shot a family dog in front of small children while serving a no-knock warrant that yielded only a misdemeanor amount of cannabis.
As the rest of the nation moves away from military-style policing in advancing the much-failed War on Drugs, it’s clear Jones and the Columbia Police Department have failed to heed the writing on the wall. If the street crimes unit can not give up its warrior mentality and cease its cowboy tactics in the public spaces of our community, it needs to be disbanded and seen only in the pages of history.
Unchecked, as it seems to be, the danger it presents is obvious, and horrifying.