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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: Put the blame where it belongs: misinformation is not racism

Published: April 5, 2012
Section: Opinions

The Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida has captured the country’s attention because of the questions it raises about racial motivations, vigilantism and lax self-defense laws. Important as these questions are, the Martin case has caused many people to overlook another heartbreaking story in California.

On March 24 Pasadena Police received a 911 call from a man named Oscar Carillo; in the call Carillo reported that a backpack and a laptop had been stolen from his car by two men who were carrying guns. Police tracked down the suspects and, when 19-year-old Kendrec McDade seemed to be reaching for his waistband, the two officers opened fire and killed him. No gun was found.

People are decrying the alleged racism of the crime—both officers were white whereas McDade was black. But this is not fair. These officers were told that their suspect was armed. In a life-or-death situation, one does not always have the time to sift through all the evidence. Instinct takes over. If the officers had chosen not to shoot and McDade had been reaching for a gun, that pause could have resulted in the deaths of two police officers.

The real problem here is not the officers; they were acting to the best of their ability with the knowledge they were provided. The problem is the false report filed by Oscar Carillo, in which he lied and said that the two men were armed so that police would respond more quickly.

McDade was the teen who stole Carillo’s possessions and McDade’s 17-year-old accomplice has been apprehended and charged with two counts of commercial burglary, one count of grand theft and one count of failure to register as a gang member as a condition of his probation. While McDade is likely guilty of theft, he did not deserve to die for that. McDade’s crime was a misdemeanor. Carillo’s false information led to McDade’s death, however, and Carillo should be held responsible.

Carillo was arrested by the Pasadena Police for involuntary manslaughter and, although he is being held for investigation, he has yet to be charged. That must change. He knowingly lied to the police, forcing police officers into a mindset that led to a young man’s death. This crime is the result of stupidity and a wanton disregard for others, not racism.

We are taught since childhood that if you do not need the police, you do not call because it takes police resources away from people who do. Police respond more quickly to cases with weapons involved to save lives. It is the same reason hospitals triage patients and move those who are hemorrhaging to the front of the line. By falsely reporting that the thieves were armed in order to get immediate police action, Carillo deceived authorities, preventing them from responding to more urgent, violent calls.

By telling police that the thieves were armed, Carillo forced the officers to choose between the well-being of the suspect or themselves. When suspects are armed, there is little room for error. Police officers need to act quickly and decisively. Not only did Carillo’s actions result in McDade’s death, but they forced two police officers—one of whom has never fired his weapon before and the other who only once used his weapon to kill a dog that was attacking someone—to kill an unarmed man. They will have to live with that knowledge for the rest of their lives.

Carillo was given multiple chances to retract his statements about the gun(s) before McDade was shot. During his 911 call, he changed his story twice. The 911 dispatcher is not without fault here. The dispatcher asked Carillo: “Which one had a gun?” and he responded: “One of them, one of them, they just pointed it at me right now.” And yet, after being asked for more details about the gun a few seconds later, rather than owning up and admitting there was no weapon, Carillo said: “Both have a gun, man.” Regardless, the officers were not on the 911 call and were not able to hear the discrepancies. All they knew was that the suspects were armed.

Carillo did not even admit to making up the weapons until he was interviewed for a second time by the police. He should be charged with obstruction of justice as well as involuntary manslaughter. Lying to the police is a crime because of the drastic consequences it can produce.
Just because Carillo began the night as the victim does not mean he should still be treated as one.

Just because McDade began the night as the suspect does not mean he is not a victim. The real victims of this case are Kendrec McDade and the two police officers to whom Oscar Carillo lied. Carillo needs to be held responsible for his actions. Exaggerating crimes in 911 calls is unacceptable.

Racist accusations against these two officers need to stop. The community needs to place blame in its rightful place: with Oscar Carillo, the liar who caused Kendrec McDade’s death.