December 20, 2009

"DC Cop Waves Gun at Snowball Fight!" Sorry. I'm siding with the cop.

"DC Cop Waves Gun at Snowball Fight!"  — that's the Reason Magazine headline on this video:

Additional text at the video page:
Around 2.30PM on Saturday, December 19, during a historic snowstorm, residents at the intersection of 14th and U Streets NW started throwing snowballs at passing Hummers.
There is a difference between a snowball fight and throwing snowballs at moving vehicles. In a snowball fight — like this cool one in Madison a couple weeks ago — you have voluntary participants playing at fighting with each other. Throwing snowballs at cars, on the other had, is surprising people who happen upon the scene and it's distracting them — and doing so at a time when it is particularly difficult to drive. Drivers do not know the extent of the interference when it begins, and they can be frightened or easily stimulated into braking or accelerating — when there is snow and ice and when pedestrians are nearby. Whether the vehicles are Hummers or not makes no difference. Were they protesting gas guzzling? That might seem cute or righteous or harmless, but it might not be. The drivers don't know.
One of the cars pelted was driven by a plainclothes police officer identified only as Det. Baylor. Baylor got out of his car and brandished his gun at the crowd.
"Brandished" is a heavy word and "brandished... at" connotes that he pointed the gun at people, which he did not.'s Dan Hayes was on the scene, capturing the tense confrontation between police and citizens who chanted "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight!"
This reminds me of the 1960s era demonstrations where it seemed like a good idea to taunt the police instead of showing them respect. Baylor got out of his car, apparently, to try to deal with disorder that he couldn't have known the precise nature of. Alone, facing a confusing crowd, he got his gun in his hand.

Why couldn't people have spoken with him in a civil way and conveyed the assurance that there was no problem requiring police attention? Did they consider that there might be people elsewhere in the city, during the snow emergency, who actually would have benefited from help from a police officer who got delayed by unruly adults who thought snow suspended the rules and made it okay to throw objects at moving cars?

The quoted chant is "Don't bring a gun to a snowball fight!" and that sounds funny and fun-loving, but it got me thinking of the encounters with police that we saw in the 1960s when it took next to nothing to provoke shouts of "police brutality" and "pig." And in fact, if you watched the whole video, you heard the shout "Fuck you, pig."

I'm siding with the cop.

IN THE COMMENTS: Chef Mojo says "This was no innocent snowball fight" and links here, to a post at futureMAGINING, written at 1:39, about 40 minutes before Baylor arrived, called "Announcing The DC Snowpocalypse Guerilla Snowball Fight 2009!"
Where? 14th & U st. NW
What? Massive guerilla snowball fight in the middle of the street.
A fun snowball fight would be sited in a park of some kind, not in the middle of the street.
When? Saturday, December 19th, 2009 @ 2 PM.
We will also be tweeting details at
If you try to go to that twitter page now, it says "Sorry, the profile you were trying to view has been suspended due to strange activity."
The only way to play it safe is to bring a posse. This may be complete anarchy.

Remember, if you’re throwing a snowball- you’re game.
Now, that could be a set-up for fun, like the Madison snowball fight, but not in a busy city street.  The first few comments say that the fight belongs in a park, and the "admin" responds: "The reason we’re calling it a 'guerilla snowball fight' is because it’s in the middle of the street." If someone called the police, they were right to respond.

Now, futureMAGINING has a statement up about the incident, written by Yousef Ali:
The “detective” who started waving his gun around inappropriately without even identifying himself as an officer of the law needs to be reprimanded.  To those who were there with us at the snowball fight, the difference of knowing that the person waving a gun is a hot-headed law enforcement agent who is unlikely to shoot outside of strict protocol versus a random thug with a penchant for violence is HUGE.  When that gun was drawn, many feared for their lives and those of their friends.
Watching the video, I wondered why so many people were laughing and hanging around... and taunting the man. That's not how I'd behave if I thought I might be near a "random thug" with a gun in his hand. I'd say their behavior shows they knew he was a cop attempting to follow whatever the protocol is when one man faces a mob. Unfortunately, the video does not show the entire confrontation.


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Florida said...

The Police Chief has slapped down Althouse here (which I think explains why there's not been a follow-up post).

"I'm siding with the cop," wrote Althouse ... defending the police officer who drew his gun in a threatening manner in response to a snowball which hit his new $50,000 Hummer H3.

Not so fast says the Chief of Police.

"Let me be very clear in stating that I believe the actions of the officer were totally inappropriate," wrote Chief Lanier.

"In no way, should he have handled the situation in this manner. We have taken swift action by placing him on non-contact status until all the facts are gathered and discipline is handed down.

Contrary to Althouse's claim that the officer handled the situation correctly, Chief Lanier points out that he acted against both training and department protocol.

"This officer’s conduct, in no way, reflects the training and the standards we hold each officer to at the Metropolitan Police Department."

Government officials do not have an automatic right to threaten the citizenry with their deadly weapons. Use of their weapons must be proportional to any perceived threat.

It is inappropriate for a government official to brandish their department-issued weapons at their employers without just cause and Chief Lanier is correct to discipline this officer.

Too many people are being inappropriately electrocuted, threatened, even shot and some killed by our government without appropriate justification.

The hotheads in our police forces need to be subdued and reminded that we pay them to be professionals at all time. If they cannot do that job, we'll find other officers who can.

Congratulations to Chief Lanier for correctly determining that both the cop, and Althouse, are wrong.

Almost Ali said...

Uh, any questions?

(Thanks, Peano)

Almost Ali said...

In academia, better to err on the side of the police. And who's to say it wasn't this very thread that shed the necessary light on Detective Quick-Draw's behavior.

Plus, I'm surprised by Chief Lanier's candid admission - maybe the first law officer to tell us to believe our lying eyes.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Yeah because cars moving at a snail's pace are highly likely to careen out of control when hit by a couple snowballs.

You know, when I'm driving in bad weather, the last thing I really need, is some dumb fucks throwing snowballs at my car because they think its cute.

Sorry but you're a moron.

Shanna said...

You know, when I'm driving in bad weather, the last thing I really need, is some dumb fucks throwing snowballs at my car because they think its cute.

Yeah, and the reason people are driving so slowly is because they can't drive any faster without careening out of control. So, snowballs don't help.

The crowd were assholes, and the officer overreacted. Nobody looks good here.

Almost Ali said...

Yeah, and they should outlaw snow!

Which reminds me, there's a march this afternoon to free Detective Hummer from desk duty.

Remington said...

What we're discussing isn't whether the snowball fight was a good idea, safe, or legal.

We're discussing the immediate reaction of a plain clothed police officer to snowballs being thrown at his vehicle.

The proper response would have been for him to:
1) Get out of his car, GUN HOLSTERED
2) Identify himself as a police officer
3) Ask that people leave/not to throw snowballs

His life was not in any danger when he first leaves the car. He's pissed that people are throwing snowballs at his car.

Does his car mark him as a police officer? No. Do his clothes mark him as a police officer? No. So when people throw snowballs at his car they do not know he is a police officer. When he first comes out, they do not know he is a police officer. All they know is that he's A MAN WITH A GUN (hence the arrival of uniformed police officers).

He made the situation worse by not following the aforementioned guidelines. HE turned it into a fiasco by leaving his vehicle with his gun un holstered.

HT said...

Wash City Paper account

Phelps said...

There have been a lot of comments about whether or not this was, or was not brandishing. The case law is very clear; the dictionary definition of "waving" or pointing is not required; if the weapon is normally carried in a holster, and it is removed from that holster, that is brandishing. The threat is implicit in removing the weapon from the holster. (In fact, it doesn't even have to be a real gun to be brandishing.)

Homicidal Orange said...

well that takes of that now doesn't it?

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