On the Mixed Accounts of the Shooting of John Crawford

by Charles C. W. Cooke

This story is doing the rounds:

Relatives of John Crawford, the man shot dead by police at a Beavercreek Walmart, say they’ve contacted civil rights organizations because they believe the shooting was not justified.

They believe he was killed possibly after he picked up a toy gun in the store.

Crawford, 22, of Ridge Drive in Fairfield, was identified as the man Beavercreek police shot and killed Tuesday night.

LeeCee Johnson, who said she is the mother of Crawford’s children, said she was on a cell phone call with Crawford when he was shot by officers. She said Crawford went to the area to visit family members.

“We was just talking. He said he was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him,” she said, adding: “And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.”

On its face, this is horrific. But is it true? The New York Daily News suggests Miss Johnson’s version is inaccurate:

John Crawford, 22, was carrying an MK-177 (.177 caliber) BB/Pellet Rifle, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Thursday.

The weapon, manufactured by Crosman, is also known as a variable pump air rifle.

It is highly unlikely that the MK-177 would kill a human but it can kill squirrels, snakes, rabbits or small birds if aimed properly.

It’s certainly not a toy.

There are disagreements, too, as to what happened in the heat of the moment. Johnson’s account has the police shooting first and asking questions later:

“And the next thing I know, he said, ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said, ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him,” she added.

The Daily News’s account is subtly different (albeit not entirely contradictory):

Emergency dispatchers received a 911 call about someone brandishing a “rifle-like weapon” at customers in the store, he said.

Evers said that Crawford did not comply with the officers’ commands and that they acted appropriately, according to the Dayton Daily News.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the police got this one horribly wrong. Whether the officers knew it or not, these sorts of not-quite-firearms are often available off-the-shelf, and are thus often carried around big box stores by customers who are taking them to the checkouts or keeping them with them while they complete their shopping. As recent incidents involving children with toy guns have shown, police in the United States are often trained poorly, are unaware of the difference between toy or low-powered firearms and real ones, and are more than capable of being unreasonably trigger-happy. Having said that, if Crawford genuinely was “brandishing” (legal definition here) — and if he “did not comply with the officers’ commands” to such an extent that he actually threatened them — what exactly could they have done? More information needed.

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