Although it was illegal to do so, a New Year's reveler, hereafter known as The Fool, in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia fired bullets into the air just after midnight. Police responded to the shots and an officer, claiming that this same Fool pointed his gun at him, shot repeatedly at the Fool who ran into a row house where a party was in progress. Inside the house, five of the officers' bullets found bystander Abebe Isaac, age 33, who died yesterday as a result of the wounds. Other bystanders in the house and The (suspected) Fool were also injured.
Assigning blame in this circumstance serves no useful purpose, but some observations are in order. First, some traditions, such as firing a weapon at the stroke of midnight, have outlived their usefulness and need to be abandoned in favor of practices that are legal and safe. Revelry and guns do not mix under any circumstances. Anytime you have a loaded gun and a crowded party trouble lurks just under the surface. Second, if you do something illegal, the arrival of the police should be no surprise and you should emerge from the shadows with your hands up not with your gun drawn. Whatever you do, do not flee into a room full of innocent children and adults and put them in danger because you are a FOOL!
Now for the police. I am sure the it is impossible for someone who does not live in harm's way for a living to imagine the tension and stress that Philadelphia's finest feel whenever they answer a call about a shooting, even if they suspect that the gunfire represents overzealous celebrating. But we rely on law enforcement to be professionals. We as a society would never put guns in their hands if we did not have the assurance that they have been adequately trained in the proper use of those weapons. Firing 11 rounds into a crowded house cannot represent proper use. Talk about shooting into the dark. And there has to be some government accountability for accidentally shooting a bystander not once but five times. This is not to demonize the police officer as an individual nor the force at large, but it is to acknowledge that even understandable actions have unintended consequences. To his credit, the new police commissioner has indicated that there will be a thorough investigation.
Bullets can have no conscience. But individuals and communities must.