Capitol Police surround the out-of-control vehicle that led a car chase through Washington, D.C. (Reuters/Alhurra TV)
See updates at bottom
As I watched coverage of the tragic incident near the White House and Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, for hours yesterday on TV, something seemed off from the start. After the breathless, often (very) wrong reporting on high-profile shootings and bombings in past months, my skepticism was on red alert. Now nearly every major news outlet was reporting that (1) a black sedan had deliberately tried to “breach” a gate and enter the White House grounds; (2) the car drove away and the driver shot and wounded a cop; (3) and the driver, possibly a woman, was dead, or alive.
Of course, coverage soon centered on the travails of Congress members who had to shelter in place for, oh, half an hour while the crazed gunwoman was firing away outside.
It tooks hours for the media, especially on TV, to admit that (1) there was no White House “gate,” it was a barrier, and maybe she had just made a wrong turn and then flipped out; (2) the woman somehow escaped not one but two police checkpoints; (3) and she was unarmed and, exiting her vehicle, she was shot so many times by police that identification would be difficult.
Now, this is not to defend the actions by the woman, Miriam Carey, 34, a dental hygienist from Stamford, Connecticut. Much is yet to be known about her and why she was in DC and what she was doing at the first White House barrier. (One unconfirmed report claims, in shades of the US Navy Yard killer, that she thought Obama was stalking her. Or maybe it was just a case of extreme road rage.) Some media reports paint her as well-adjusted and “normal,” others suggest she was suffering from post-partum depression and/or had hurt her head in a fall.
How police and Secret Service and police handled their response at the two checkpoints will be probed and possibly their actions, in fear-heightened DC, will seem very reasonable. But the main video that has surfaced, revealing what happened at the second barrier—police surrounded the car at very close range, surely saw the child inside, but opened fire anyway as the car pulled away (what, they can’t shoot out tires nowadays?)—and she still escaped. It was amazing to watch every TV host and all of Congress hype and hail the police work when somehow a car escaped from not one but two checkpoints. What if this had been a terrorist with a suitcase nuke?
But put that all aside for now. We are left with something that seems uncontested. After a “high-speed chase”—again, we cannot defend Carey here, especially with infant on board—the black Infiniti crashed into some kind of barrier, and the driver got out of the car. it’s unclear how far she fled but we do know she had no gun and that she died in a hail of bullets.
Police quickly claimed that earlier she had used a “weapon” and injured a Secret Service man with it slightly—that is, her automobile—but at the end she was out of the car.
Her child witnessed all this and then was carried away. I loved how many in the media said police “rescued” the kid—after firing countless rounds at the car and the mom.
Again, go to my blog to see how this developed. Perhaps facts—not police and media hyperbole—will emerge to change this picture a good deal. For now we have The New York Times reporting overnight: “What occurred next was not clear. Ms. Carey managed to get out of the car, and was shot by several officers. According to a law enforcement official, she was not armed, and it was not known whether she presented an immediate danger.”
Actually, it seems pretty clear that she presented no “immediate danger” at that point.
Friday afternoon updates:
Josh Marshall at TPM, like so many in media, approves police shooting woman even if she exited car, I guess: “Given what was known and her behavior, it makes perfect sense to me that the Capitol Police and whatever other federal authorities were in the mix were focusing on threat elimination as their primary goal rather than apprehension.” New Republic writer Alec MacGillis not so sure. Unless I've missed, the police have offered NO details on the final shooting--how and where she was shot, by how many, etc.
Most of the (few) questions raised in the media--and in the Comments below--about the shooting have usually been misleading, often along the lines of "police had a right to shoot to halt that car." People: The car was halted, crashed, could not move--she reportedly was slain after she left the vehicle. Typical is USA Today, which focuses on shooting at the car while it was careening away--and not when it was stopped or the woman was out of the car later. Still, even in the former case, they at least did include a quote from Michael Lyman, a former criminal investigator who has studied use-of-force guidelines for police, who said the woman's inability to penetrate barriers around the White House downgraded the situation from a national security concern to an "old-fashioned pursuit." From that point on officers should have tried to use other means to stop the car. "Shooting at a moving vehicle is against all nationally recognized protocols," said Lyman. The possibility of accidentally striking innocent bystanders is just too high when trying to shoot at a moving car.
Still: my focus remains on what happened at the end of the chase.
Friday night update:
Tonight the NYT with new piece that examines the issues in the shooting in balanced way. It says one official who was briefed reports that the woman was fired on at the end while still in the car. This is fresh news, and would change matters, if true, but this is the first such claim I've seen and from odd source (sergeant-at-arms). One also has to wonder if seven police fired probably dozens of rounds at woman in car why her child was not hit at all. Others quoted in piece say that most police policies forbid or discourage firing on moving cars, which happened earlier in the showdown.
Wash Post also with new story tonight with other details and arguments. They have been unable to get police and the Secret Service to realize rules on firing at or into vehicles.
Greg Mitchell picks apart mainstream reporting on the Navy Yards shooting.