Could I Shoplift my way to Suicide by Cop?

I am a 52 year old, white, male professor. And I am guessing that if I did what Kajieme Powell, a 25 year old black male wearing a hoodie, did on Tuesday, I would have difficulty getting St Louis (or any other) police to shoot to kill the way they shot and killed Powell.

Let me be clear about a few things. First, I do not know that Powell was trying to commit suicide by cop.  My own viewing of the cell phone video of the shooting suggests that he may have been doing so.  But none of us are in a position to make that determination.  Second, I cannot tell from the video available whether Powell was “brandishing a knife” as police have claimed, but I can say that it sure does not look that way to me.


WARNING: video depicts man shot to death

The video above[1] has audio and shows the police arrive at roughly 1:16, and the police fire at roughly 1:40.  Powell is clearly shouting “Shoot me! Shoot me now!” and walking toward the police, who have drawn their guns, pointed them at him and shouted at him to get on the ground.  And he clearly disobeys, and walks toward them, again, with his hands down.  The police then fire five or six shots (one cop, both? I cannot tell) and Powell crumples to the ground and dies.

The video below is from two security cameras (has no audio) and contains footage shot prior to what was recorded above.  Powell walks into a convenience store, selects a beverage from the cooler, and appears to walk out of the store without paying.  He then walks back into the store a few minutes later, grabs some sort of a snack, and clearly walks out without paying.  Shortly thereafter a man walks out of the store and begins gesturing in Powell’s direction (who is off camera).  The cell phone video appears to begin not long afterward, though that is difficult to establish.

Powell, selecting a snack

Powell, selecting a snack

We will presumably learn what the officers who arrived on the scene were told when they received the call that led them to drive up and confront Powell.  They may well have been told that he was armed.  But I don’t care.

I am tempted, as an experiment, to go purchase a kevlar vest, do some shoplifting at a local convenience store, and then shout at the cops who arrive.  I am not rash enough, however, to purchase a second vest and recruit a 25 year old African American male to do so at a similar store, nearby.  After all, I’d never get the approval of the Human Subjects Research committee.


[1] The video was released by the St Louis Police Department and this version of it is hosted by St Louis tv station KWMU on their YouTube page.

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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