Dead Man’s Party

This L.A. Times image by photographer Don Bartletti of the aftermath of the killing in Santa Ana yesterday of the alleged suspect wanted in connection with the shooting last Friday of two Long Beach police officers shows some details some might not consider worthy of comment but I think bear examination. Details like both Santa Ana officers on the left side of the frame standing a few feet away from the dead man enjoying tasty beverages. Details like the broad grin on the cop facing the camera.

Look, cops are human and when they put themselves on the line there’s understandable relief, pride and satisfaction when they make the world have one less bad guy and do it cleanly without themselves or bystanders getting shot or worse. I can totally respect that. I’m just saying that if they’re going to mill about in the immediate proximity of the corpse just created they might want to refrain from acting like they’re at some kind of shindig, ya dig?

24 Replies to “Dead Man’s Party”

  1. Are you kidding? Unseemly, perhaps, but honest. After what that dead thug did last Friday, I’m surprised the officers weren’t high-fiving each other.

  2. Tim… sorry, but I’m not clear on who or what’s not fair. Care to elaborate?

    LB, I think you missed my point. I don’t disagree that the expression and attitudes of the officers in the picture is entirely honest and I do not fault them that. In fact I even grant them that. I just feel that it’s not all that appropriate in the public eye, whether or not the deceased was a thug deserving the bullets.

  3. They might be under orders, or following policy, to stand there for hours in the cold. A snap shot could capture a half spoken word and make it look like a grin. You can’t draw any conclusions about the character of these guys from such scant information.

    Maybe that is relief on his face. He may have just avoided being killed. Can you really know what is in his mind from an this dark photo of an unknown slice of time taken from an entire evening of the very odd work these guys do?

  4. Gald to see everyone but the utterly stupid sticking up for the cops here. It’s true the picture could be interpreted in a lot of ways, and that context is everything.

    But it’s also true that people who kill other people, Especially those who kill cops, deserve exactly what this fine fellow got.

    I take that back – what he got is still too good for him.

  5. From my personal experience, those officers were probably keeping the crime scene secure on a cold, windy evening–someone brought them some hot coffee. I don’t imagine they were rubber-necking the crime scene. I imagine they were standing there for hours. I imagine they were talking about many things besides the dead man in front of them, but who but them knows?

    I know I sound unsympathethic. I am. My father was shot in the back of the head by a paroled tweaker. Been there, done that. I know the police can be callously disregarding of the niceties of polite company, even in front of victims. But I see nothing inappropriate about this photo.

    For whatever reason, the dead man opened fire on police officers not one, but three times. He knew the risks and consequences. Why should the officers feign feelings of respect or regret?

  6. You’re absolutely right Tim, drawing context from a split-second snapshot is a questionable practice and there’s no way I can no whether the grinning officer was just passing gas or chuckling at how the thug fell like a sack of shit after that third round to the chest…

    But where you’re absolutely wrong is that nowhere in my post am I calling into question the character of any of the officers in that picture. Hell other than calling him a “bad guy” I even refrained from demeaning the dead dude. I’m merely remarking on what I’ve interpreted from this image of two policemen casually standing by sipping drinks and smiling at the scene of a homicide — by all accounts a justifiable one, but a homicide nonetheless. And in that interpretation I find it incongurous to the seriousness dictated by their immediate surroundings.

  7. LB,

    Thanks for the follow-up. It’s not necessarily regret or respect for the dead suspect I’m looking for from the officers. More just suggesting that a heightened awareness of decorum couldn’t hurt.

  8. “But where you’re absolutely wrong is that nowhere in my post am I calling into question the character of any of the officers in that picture.”

    Oh, sorry, I fell into the trap of trying to make my writing seem dramatic.

    You the man, Will. The heart and soul of B.LA. I shoulda been more careful.

  9. “But it’s also true that people who kill other people, Especially those who kill cops, deserve exactly what this fine fellow got.”

    Why especially those who kill cops ruth666? It confuses me that for some reason their (police officers) lives are treated as more valuable than say, mine, or my nice second-grade teacher, or my creepy neighbor.

    Here’s an idea. How about no one deserves to die in the streets. Not the police and not the criminals. I know it seems naive… but hey that’s how I roll. =)

  10. Except that criminals DO deserve to die in the streets.

    And yes, yes, all human life is valuable, et cetera.

    Except you and I don’t go out every single day and risk our very lives to make a living. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, I’m just saying that we all expect these guys and gals to do Whatever It Takes to keep us and our second-grade teachers safe, and when some scumbag goes after these people I say shoot ’em dead. Hell, shoot ’em twice. Then once more between the eyes for insurance (I’m from Chicago).

  11. Ruth, I think you’re great, and you know that, but I’ve done a number of things in my life that would qualify me for “criminal” status (nothing that hurt other people, and nothing I got caught for, but I definitely went beyond “misdemeanor” level), and…I don’t deserve to die in the streets.

    (Not arguing with what I think is your point that people who shoot at the people who sign up to protect & serve should be punishable to the full extent of the law.)

  12. It sucks when anyone who doesn’t want to die dies.

    If killing a cop brings stronger punishment, however, then cops needs to be held to much, much higher standards. Any crime committed by a cop needs to be punished as strongly, if they’re gonna get special treatment.

  13. Evan

    No the officers did not die, lucky for them. I mean luck, whim, chance. The assailant was shooting to kill.

    Cops sign up for an awesome duty. Why, I will never understand because I could not do it. Most officers I know do meet a higher standard of behavior–the ugliness they see, the disrespect people show both to the officers and to themselves–would abrade the humanity out of my personality.

    I have worked in an unsavory part of Long Beach for over ten years, haven’t seen a fraction of the degradation, horror, or violence an officer sees, yet I struggle to maintain my compassion for my fellow humans.

    Not to say that the officers are perfect, can do no wrong, or don’t go bad. These jobs take their toll and some cops sink to the lowest level. (I would hate to get pulled over by an OC deputy and take a trip to the OC jail.)

    Wouldn’t it be a great world if we didn’t need a police force? If everyone, misdemeanor or felony, did the right thing? If conflict could be solved without knives, guns, fists?

  14. Will: While I do agree in part with what you said about police professionalism and conduct given the serious nature of a dead body, I do not agree with your editorialization of the photograph. Furthermore I question the motives of the photographer. Why this particular shot? Perhaps a shot from a moment earlier would have shown the officers looking somber, perhaps not. We will never know because the photographer/editor chose to print this shot to tell the story.

    I’d bet that this photograph wasn’t taken immediately after the shooting, that the officers pictured were not involved in the shooting and they certainly wouldn’t call that night one of the highlights of their career.

    Now, I do not know what it’s like to be a cop but I have had my fair share of awful jobs – thankless jobs that few would want to do and often the only things keeping me from walking (aside from needing the money) were the humor and interaction with my fellow coworkers. I didn’t have someone photographing me out of context, probably from their car down the street and with a long lens. If they had, perhaps someone would have misread my behavior to be that of someone at “some kind of shindig”. How often do you crack a smile at work, even when the work you are doing is serious?

    Anyway that is my take on the subject. Thanks for the opportunity to post it.

  15. Aaron, that was very well put and as someone always wary of media motives I too had questions and concerns about the use of that specific photo. No doubt it was but one of many taken by the Times photographer at the scene and may very well have been chosen because of its unique or manipulated context.

    My flippant editorialization may be dead wrong and I appreciate your considerate take against it. I may have failed in the attempt, but I wasn’t trying to come off as if I knew exactly what was happening. I was merely reacting subjectively to the information given in that frame of reference — a frame that may very well have been chosen for publication by design to ilicit that very response.

  16. You’re right, Michele, I should have clarified what I meant by “criminal” because I too fall into some gray areas from time to time, and I neither deserve nor expect to die in the street.

    I am also aware that the shot cops didn’t die, but that was more due to incompetence on the part of the deceased than good intentions. I’m not less angry when a cop is shot and lives, just relieved I guess.

    Lastly, I agree with Aaron above, that one snapshot is just that, and that one taken a second earlier might have looked 180 degrees different, which is why I don’t think it was fair to come down on the officers for improper attitude based solely on this single snapshot.

  17. Es-tu Ruth?! Gotta say that I find it rather odd you deeming my subjective interpretation of the image as “unfair,” after writing that “criminals do deserve to die in the streets.”

    And the nerve of on me for concluding that regardless of the context of the scene in that photograph, officers would be better served comporting themselves in the immediate vicinity of a homicide with heightened level of awareness and decorum. Yeah, that’s really coming down on them.

    Who wants to take the next swing?

  18. Ruth666 pretty much has a hard-on for cops and firefighters. Too bad their jobs aren’t even in the top ten for most dangerous.

    Keep up the nonsense Ruthie!

  19. I’m not even swinging!

    (offered without sarcasm) Is it contradictory that I think photos often lack context and maybe shouldn’t be hastily interpreted, regardless of their content?

    The issues of whether or not the guy deserved it, or what kind of job it is to be a cop are completely separate to me. What I was commenting about was the context issue.

    Of course I believe everyone shoud do his/her job with decorum, but my point about the picture was it was snapped in one moment and didn’t show us any of the other moments. Cops are human, it was cold, they were stuck at the crime scene….

  20. I’m with ya Ruth — especially the “cops are human” part, that exact phrase of which you’ll find in my original post.

    My main point is that I reacted to what I was shown in the photo and I found it worth a post — and to characterize my interpretation as unfair and hasty is disconcerting at best.

    I was pretty careful to present what I saw in this image with minimal extrapolation other than to offer that the two officers as they appeared inside the dead zone might not be pleasing their supervisors with such body language and demeanor caught on film.

    I can think of plenty of ways I could’ve been unfair and that isn’t one of them.

    Perhaps I could have prefaced the post with “Obviously I don’t know what’s really going on in this image but…” but to me that was a given and frankly I dislike the thought of trying to pre-appease.

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