This tragic story from New Orleans is unusual not because a cop shot a young Black man to death – that happens with depressing regularity – but because the cop is in prison for the shooting.
On March 7 of last year, Colclough was among a group of officers who raided [Natasha Allen's] home on Prentiss Street in Gentilly, looking for evidence of drug dealing.
As they marched up the stairs, 20-year-old Wendell Allen appeared at the top of the staircase. He was shirtless, wearing only pants and a pair of sneakers.
He had nothing in his hands, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Friday. He was unarmed.
But Colclough fired his weapon once. The bullet tore through Allen’s chest, into his heart and his lungs. He fell on the landing and died within seconds.
I wonder why Colclough didn’t say the magic words – “I thought he was reaching for a gun in his waistband” – to get out of being punished. The other police officers were behind him on the stairs, and therefore had obscured views. It would have created reasonable doubt.
Two possibilities occur to me. First, Colclough may have known that the raid was being recorded by a pinhole camera, and been afraid of lying for fear of being contradicted by the video. Although the video doesn’t show Allen before the shooting, Colclough may not have known that at the time he gave his statement.
Secondly, Colclough may be too honest and honorable a person to lie. The article certainly makes him seem like a good man – one that even the victim’s mother forgave after meeting with him.
Don’t get me wrong – I mainly feel sorry for Wendell Allen and his family. Wendell Allen took care of his many younger siblings and was the first in his family to attend college. He sounds like a great guy who worked hard to make something of himself, and now he’s dead at a ludicrously young age and won’t get the chance.
But there’s something unsatisfying about Colclough being the only person punished for this tragedy, because this wasn’t only Colclough’s fault. If it wasn’t Colclough shooting Allen, it would have been a different cop shooting a different civilian. Because our current policies make tragedies like this inevitable.
Radley Balko writes:
Let’s be clear here. Throwing cops in jail for making split-second mistakes under unimaginably perilous circumstances isn’t going to prevent future Wendell Allens. The problem is that bad policy keeps creating those unimaginably perilous circumstances in the first place. Over 100 times per day in America, police officers break into private homes to serve search warrants for consensual, nonviolent crimes. They aren’t preventing violence, they’re creating it. They aren’t saving lives, they’re putting lives at risk.
Until that stops, there will be more bodies.
A police raid like the one that took Wendell Allen’s life should be a very last resort, used rarely, and only in cases where the stakes are high enough to justify risking lives. It wasn’t worth risking the lives of anyone – not the cops, not the people raided – for a shot at arresting an alleged pot dealer. If someone offered to increase the amount of pot in New Orleans by a thousandfold or ten thousandfold or a thousand thousandfold, and in return Wendell Allen would be alive, I’d take that deal in a second, and so would anyone with any sense of proportion.
But while Josh Colclough, who says he has wept for Wendell Allen every day since the shooting, sits in prison, and while Wendell Allen lies dead, the people who decided to invade the Allen home with a door-smashing raid are not dead or in prison. The higher-ups in the police department who decide on priorities and tactics will not be punished at all. The politicians who have made careers out of anti-drug hysteria will not be punished at all.
It’s good Colclough was held responsible. It’s appalling that he’s the only one.
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