Feature

Washington shooting: An overreaction?

The police used overwhelming force—firing 17 shots—when they finally caught up with Miriam Carey.

When police surround an unarmed, mentally ill woman and fire 17 shots at her in front of her 1-year-old daughter, said Esther Goldberg in Spectator.org, it should be a “national tragedy.” Yet Washington, D.C., police were applauded last week for killing Miriam Carey, as if her life meant nothing. Carey, 34, had triggered a lockdown of downtown Washington after she rammed her black Infiniti coupe into security barriers outside the White House and led police on a wild chase toward Congress, injuring two cops in the process. After officers blocked in the Connecticut dental hygienist’s vehicle and raked her with bullets, they realized she was unarmed, and had her toddler in the back seat. In her home, instead of bombs or political tracts, authorities found baby bottles and prescriptions for postpartum anti-depressants. Did the police really need to gun down Carey like a rabid dog?

Don’t blame the cops, said Richard Weinblatt in CNN.com. Carey was in the throes of severe postpartum psychosis, apparently believing that President Obama was bugging her apartment in Stamford. But as her car careened down Pennsylvania Avenue, flipping a uniformed officer over the hood, her mental fragility “was not a factor that the officers had the luxury of contemplating.” No one knew her identity or intentions. Let’s not forget, said Josh Marshall in TalkingPointsMemo.com, that just two weeks before, a crazed gunman had slaughtered 12 people only a mile away at Washington’s Navy Yard, or that in the age of terrorism, a speeding vehicle can be a car bomb. The Secret Service’s only real option was to go into “threat elimination” mode.

What worries me, said Rick Perlstein in TheNation.com, is how “much more frantically we respond to scary stuff than we did in decades past.” In 1975, President Ford weathered two attempts on his life in the space of two weeks, before a bomb exploded at LaGuardia Airport in New York City, killing 11 people. Yet “Americans didn’t freak out, or shut down, or exhibit symptoms of PTSD.” Compare that to this year’s Boston Marathon, when two young men with homemade bombs shut down an entire city. Thanks to terrorism and mass shootings by lunatics, we’ve clearly lost all perspective, said Alec MacGillis in NewRepublic.com. Police forces have become heavily militarized, and routinely use “overwhelming force”—even when the threat is “a depressed dental hygienist going berserk in her car.”

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