Events leading up to the fatal shooting Tuesday night of 21-year-old Jack Keewatinawin — an incident that now has the Seattle Police Department under fire from the traditional critics — appear to be clearly shifting much responsibility for the outcome not just to the dead man’s brothers, but also to the shabby state of affairs in the mental health system.
It also serves as a reminder that dangerously mentally ill people can arm themselves with deadly weapons that are not firearms, and still present an immediate and unavoidable threat of grave bodily harm or death. By incredible coincidence, this column was chatting with Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association on a completely different subject, but he said something that struck at the heart of the Keewatinawin shooting, without even realizing it.
“We’ve been fighting,” he said, “for 20 years to get (dangerously mentally ill people) into the NICS system. (The country) has emptied the institutions. There’s not a police officer on the street who doesn’t know these guys are out there, walking around."
Seattle Times reporters Sara Jean Green and Christine Clarridge — two of the best for detail — and the Seattle P-I.com’s equally attentive Casey McNerthney do not leave many details gathering dust. Their reports of what occurred and what was revealed at Thursday’s press conference draw a vivid picture of yet another breakdown in a system that started derailing years ago with the push by the mental health community to “mainstream” people and by the government to “de-institutionalize” people who could become violent.
It is never easy for a parent to lose a child, even one with a dangerous history. The father of Cafe Racer killer Ian Stawicki has become something of a crusader for increased gun laws. Keewatinawin’s father, reportedly seriously ill with cancer, has his own battle to fight, but he maintains the situation was not as serious as is being portrayed.
But instead of blaming guns or police — or gun owners and the mythical “gun show loophole” or some other cause du jour — a hard look at the practices of de-institutionalization and mainstreaming of people who probably should be off the streets needs to happen. Like gun control, this business of allowing dangerous mental patients on the streets has proven to be a failure.
Gun prohibitionists will argue that the dead man was armed only with an 18-inch piece of rebar and a hunting knife, one with an upswept cutting edge designed for opening up the body cavity from the groin to the sternum, and then separating skin from the muscle underneath. Soft body armor cannot always stop the thrust of such a knife, and steel rebar can instantly and fatally crush a human skull.
But that didn’t stop one Seattle Times reader from observing: “Hysterical police are a danger to everyone, especially the mentally ill. There's no excuse or reason for any shoot- to -kill policy unless a gun is involved or someone is at that moment in imminent danger.”—‘”Mountain Lake” from Redmond
Mountain Lake is obviously one of the cheap-seat analysts who never heard of the Tueller Drill (a.k.a. “Tueller Principle”) that has proven time and again that someone armed with a knife or blunt object and who is within the striking distance of 21 feet, is an immediate lethal threat, as was the late David Walker, fatally shot by SPD officer Tom Doran several years ago near the Seattle Center as a KING news camera captured the event.
Mountain Lake and others like him should stick to safer subjects that have nothing to do with lethal force.
Newtown’s Adam Lanza had a history of mental problems. Seung-Hui Cho likewise set off warning signs. Jared Loughner was a neon sign of mental instability. Naveed Haq had mental probems but not so many that he wasn’t crafty enough to purchase guns at two different Tri-Cities area gun shops, passing background checks in both transactions.
Keewatinawin could not have legally bought a gun because his name was already in the system, but he was dangerously armed just the same. As reported by the Times, “A state Department of Corrections warrant had been issued for Keewatinawin’s arrest Jan. 28 after he stopped checking in with his treatment provider and community corrections officer. He was under Corrections supervision after pleading guilty to third-degree assault with sexual motivation in May for an October 2011 attack on a female jogger in nearby Carkeek Park.”
One report said a police officer was “on his back” when the fatal shots were fired, but Keewatinawin ‘s father, Henry Northwind, said he did not see an officer fall.
This is easy enough to prove or disprove. Take the officer’s shirt or jacket for analysis. Check it for soil debris and for grass stains or chlorophyll residue. If they are present, that guy was on the ground and he landed there hard.
An autopsy will determine the angle of trajectory of the rounds fired by police. If Keewatinawin was killed “like a rabid dog,” the nature of the bullet wounds will tell the tale. If he was, however, raising the rebar over his head in preparation to strike, and if the officer with the shotgun fired upward from a prone position, the path of his buckshot will confirm that, along with the paths of the .40-caliber pistol bullets that hit him.
Life-and-death scenarios unfold fast, and split-second judgments are analyzed from the comfort of an office chair and criticized from the comfort a public meeting.
But as the Times and P-I.com have reported — and knowing all three of these reporters it is simply not possible that all of them got it wrong — the dead man is the one who set this thing in motion. His brothers, identified as Montano Rojo Northwind Sr, and Hawk Firstrider, sped things up by calling 911 and reporting that their father was in lethal peril. Now, both insist, they “know that their brother was not holding their father hostage or threatening him.” The responding police did not know this at all.
But Seattle’s knee-jerk anti-police peanut gallery expects clairvoyance from their cops.
Perhaps Police Chief John Diaz, with whom this column spoke very briefly a few weeks ago as he waited for a ride to some event, summed it up best: “I do believe that what we’re seeing here and across the country is an issue with more resources being needed for assisting families that have individuals that are mentally ill.”
Diaz nailed it. Every one of the recent high-profile mass shooting tragedies had as its perpetrator someone who is, or was, not right in the head.
“Yet,” NRA's LaPierre observed, “all I see is these anti-gun politicians looking through a political prism and saying, ‘Hey, let’s piggyback our decades-long anti-gun agenda on the back of (some) horrible tragedy and take a meat cleaver to the Second Amendment.”
Time will tell whether LaPierre called it right on this week’s shooting.