Tuesday, January 5, 2010 Leave a comment
Originally published September 17, 2009.
All sides can agree that on August 24, a 23-year-old man was shot and killed by police officers in a Rockford church. Everything else is still up in the air. Rockford police chief Chet Epperson has said that officers Stan North and Oda Poole fatally shot Mark Anthony Barmore as he attempted to wrestle a gun away from them.
Eyewitnesses at the scene insist that Barmore came out of hiding with his hands up and was killed. These witnesses were two church day care employees, as well as several young children.
Rockford police received a call that day regarding a domestic disturbance between Barmore and his girlfriend, and encountered him outside Kingdom Authority International Ministries Church. According to an Associate Press article on Saturday, the church was one he attended on occasion and that he was speaking outside with pastor Rev. Melvin Brown’s wife and 17-year-old daughter—the two daycare employees.
These witnesses and police dispute whether officers approached with their guns drawn, but all concur that Barmore ran into the church upon seeing them. It’s not unreasonable that Mark Anthony Barmore would have fled.
He had been arrested before, once on charges of assaulting an officer with a firearm, and had recently finished serving a prison sentence. It could certainly be true that he had just come from the scene of a domestic disturbance with his live-in girlfriend. But all accounts have stated that at the time of the shooting, Barmore was unarmed and alone. He should not have ended up dead.
The case is currently under investigation by Illinois state police and the Cook County state attorney’s office, but the NAACP is calling for both a full-on investigation by the Department of Justice and a reintroduction of the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. The legislation, originally backed by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in 2000, aims to unify the use-of-force policies of all law enforcement agencies by mandating federal standards.
While the effectiveness of a Department of Justice investigation will become clear as further information is released in the current investigation, the need for passage of the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act is already overwhelming.
Just looking at the details of the Barmore case make this clear, despite arguments over what took place. If Mark Barmore, a single, weaponless man, had attempted to fight one of two armed police officers for a gun, it might have justified the police’s decision to shoot. But that should have meant two shots—one for each officer—in non-fatal parts of Barmore’s body that would have rendered him unable to attack.
If witness testimony is correct, there’s no reason Barmore should have been injured at all.
He reappeared from the boiler room into which he had run, hands up in surrender, according to Marissa Brown.
She has said Barmore was shot multiple times, around as many as eight.
Establishing a standard use-of-force policy would begin a process of re-educating law enforcement officers and how they assess situations in which force is necessary—something clearly needed, as evidenced by the record of one of the officers involved in Barmore’s death.
In the ongoing investigation, it’s come to light that Oda Poole shot three other suspects in last three years, killing one of them.
Poole insists that the 66-year-old man he fatally wounded was pointing what could have been a weapon at him and would not drop it. It turned to out to be hammer in a sock. Police found a suicide note on the man after the fact. The million-dollar question: why did Poole fail to consider shooting him in a spot that would have disarmed him?
Setting use of force standards won’t fix everything, but teaching officers to think before they shoot is a much-needed first step on the path to eliminating unnecessary violence—and unnecessary loss of life.
Chelsea is a senior in LAS.