Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine. A police officer, working in the small town that he lives in, focusing on family and shooting and coffee, and occasionally putting some people in jail.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Since the murders in Lakewood, WA the other morning, the news stories have been filled with silly references to "execution-style murders." What they're referring to, one supposes, is that the actor intentionally went into a coffee shop, and methodically shot and killed three police officers before having to wrestle the fourth and killing him, too.

Merriam-Webster's first definition of "Execution" is "the act or process of executing: PERFORMANCE." Well, that's kind of vague, and basically means that every action is an execution. That would hardly be newsworthy, would it? Second definition: "A putting to death especially as a legal penalty."

Webster's Online's first definition of "Execution" is "Putting a condemned person to death."

Okay. "Legal penalty." "Condemned person." These are key terms. A true execution is a legal action. It is in fact an extension of the legal process. Whether or not you believe execution to be a moral act, in a real execution, the condemned person is being put to death by persons who are acting in good faith that they are serving out the law, and technically serving the will of the people.*

This does NOT describe the multiple-shooting of police officers in a coffee shop. No, not even the "premeditated" part does that. Actually, that's a component of the traditional definition of murder: "with malice aforethought." The thug was a murderer, not an executioner.

Now, who was the thug?

Well, his name was Maurice Clemmons, and he was a convicted felon, out on bail for child rape and assault on a police officer. How do we know that now? Because he just got taken down by Seattle cop** early this morning. Clemmons was in possession of a stolen car, and a gun that he had taken off of one of the fallen officers. Still more damning was the torso wound that Clemmons carried, given him by the last cop to die at the coffee shop, who had fought with Clemmons even after being wounded, and wrestled the murderer out of the coffee shop before being killed.

At this point, we're not being told the name of that fourth police officer who died while fighting. That's a shame, because "Tina Griswold," "Gregory Richards," "Sgt. Mark Renninger," or "Ronald Owens" are easier names to say than "The Lakewood cop who died fighting," while lifting your glass in toast. That's not to condemn the other officers. They were shot in the head, and any one of us could be taken down by a determined adversary. We can shade the odds a bit, but the truth is, beating the drop is very, very hard.

When you go to your favorite Third Place with your buddies, consider who's watching the door and the counter. If you must, demand the seat with your back to the wall, and appoint yourself that guy. But know that you're playing catch-up if the balloon goes up, especially if you pin a target on your suit. That's just part of it.

But if you are hit, and realize that you are hit, then you can probably still fight. If you must, avenge your own death. But at the very least see to it that the last action that your enemy saw you make was one of aggression toward him.

That fourth officer in the coffee shop was just lucky enough to have received a wound that didn't instantly incapacitate, and then he went on the offensive. Sadly, he didn't win. But he died fighting, and rendered a wound to his opponent that helped identify the bad guy and those who helped him. There are worse deaths. I raise my glass to you, Fourth Officer, until such time as I learn your name, so that I may say it properly.
# # #

A word about the Seattle officer. He found a stolen car, and sat on it until Clemmons arrived. He then challenged Clemmons, and recognized Clemmons as the murder suspect***. He shouted for Clemmons to stop, and shot him when Clemmons refused to. Clemmons was mortally wounded, and died later.

Under Tennessee v. Garner (1985), police can no longer shoot fleeing felons simply for being fleeing felons. We must have probable cause that the suspect represented a danger to the officer or others. Certainly Clemmons fit this description perfectly. He had killed, he was armed, and there was a warrant out for his arrest, which gave the officer good faith with regard to the probable cause. Nothing has been said about Clemmons "going for his gun." If nothing in world can convince you that the Seatle cops are retelling the incident without embellishment, then this should. It would be so easy, so neat and tidy, to have the officer best Clemmons as Clemmons went for his gun. But that's not how it went down. If it were, they would have told us that, right away. And I can respect that.

I expect nothing less, but I mention it for those foolish oxygen thieves who would yet again --and more flagrantly, this time-- misuse the term "execution."

*And let's have no nonsense that most Americans would stop execution, because that's patently false. Want to stop executions in your state? Become governor, and commute every death penalty. Enjoy your single term. Or better yet, have the Amnesty International Party field legislation to outlaw the death penalty. Why don't you do it? Because you don't have the votes to.

**Who will never have to buy his own drinks again.

***Doubtless, he had memorized Clemmons' mugshot and name, as a lot of us North Texas cops did after the "Texas Seven" murdered Aubrey Hawkins, back in 2001. I carried around an array of their mugshots on my clipboard.

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At Tuesday, December 01, 2009 12:53:00 PM, Blogger Holly said...

Excellent post! To equate a premeditated, malicious act by a convicted felon with a legal act assessed after a fair trial is atrocious and and egregious misuse of a word. Thanks for explaining all of the events in this story.

At Tuesday, December 01, 2009 2:22:00 PM, Blogger Robert McDonald said...

Great post! I've shaking my head with disgust at the media calling these officers' murders 'executions.'

At Tuesday, December 01, 2009 3:54:00 PM, Blogger Old NFO said...

Well said Matt, well said. I too salute the 4th officer! What really galls me, is this sucker was given clemency by Hucky-Bucky because he was incarcerated when he was so young... These four deaths, and probably others are on you Huckabee.

At Tuesday, December 01, 2009 7:33:00 PM, Anonymous pax said...

Great post.

They have released the name of the officer who took him down: Benjamin L. Kelly

In a just world, his name -- and not the name of the scumbag -- would be the one all over the news tonight. Officer Kelly is a hero and should be lauded as such. He did the right thing, did it well. I hope he sleeps the sleep of the just tonight and every night to come.

As for the Fourth Officer, he earned an honor guard in Valhalla. *toast*

WV: pardn, which Mike Huckabee should be deeply, humiliatingly ashamed of having done.

At Tuesday, December 01, 2009 9:34:00 PM, Anonymous Bryan Willman said...

First, it appears officer Kelly gave the goblin a chance to surrender. (I agree that claiming the goblin had pulled a gun would be too easy, it's only too plausible officer Kelly told him to stop and then shot him out of truly legitimate concern/fear for what he might do next.)

Second, another common meaning of 'execute', which you will find in some dictionaries is "planned murder".


This meaning has nothing to do with trials or the death penalty - it refers to the kind of premediated murder that the goblin committed.

Third, Seattle Metro (area where I live) has had FIVE peace officers murdered, all out of the blue, in the last few weeks. I very much hope this is over.

At Wednesday, December 02, 2009 1:08:00 AM, Blogger JPG said...

I submit that the misuse of the word likely had its roots in reports of organized crime doing away with members of their own mobs in return for real or fancied betrayals of their "laws." After a pattern developed of crime figures, major or minor, being "taken for a ride in the country" and slain by gunshot from behind or by garrote, the news media frequently reported "an execution-style murder." Even the police sometimes used the term in official announcements.

I agree, though, that calling almost any murder "execution" is stupid. What Clemmons did in the Lakewood coffee shop might well be termed an "assassination," the murder of public officials with whom the killer had no personal connection. Still, different from an "execution."


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