The Shooting of James Boyd

March 16, 2014. Our plans to move to Finland were well underway. But that was the day any doubts evaporated. It was the day I lost any regret about leaving. That was the day James Boyd, a schizophrenic homeless man, was shot and killed by police.

I think I’d met James once or twice. People that I knew, knew him. I’d been working with the homeless for a while at that point. There were a handful of people I knew well. Folks I was friends with. The rest were part of an ever-changing, and constantly growing, sea of faces. I knew why people ended up homeless. I was aware of what they did to survive. And I knew that encounters between the homeless and the police tended to end badly.

It Starts Off Badly

James had been camping in the foothills. It was adjacent to some prime real estate, and a local called the cops on him. There was some back-and-forth. He had two pocket knives, and he may have made a threat against the two armed officers, but that settled down. Eventually there four officers and a police dog there. After four hours James agreed to move.

As he started to gather his things, one officer threw a stun grenade at him. Which, to be clear, as because the cops were at least 10 feet away from him. Another officer fired a taser at James, and the dog was let loose to attack him. James allegedly pulled the knives out. So they shot him in the back. He fell face-first onto the ground. Then they shot him with beanbag rounds and sicced the dog on him again.

He was rushed to the hospital shortly after 8pm that night. They declared him dead just before 3am. Doctors had amputated one of his arms, removed his spleen, part of a lung, and a section of his colon in an attempt to save his life.

Again, to be clear: a schizophrenic homeless man had committed the crime of camping. He had two pocket knives, and there were four officers with guns, tasers, grenades, and a trained attack dog. Even if he had lived, he would have been seriously messed up. None of the officers, or the dog, sustained any injuries.

Then It Gets Worse

Two of the officers were charged with second degree murder. It ended in a mistrial. 3 jurors found them guilty, but 9 found them not guilty. The District Attorney decided not to refile the case. One of the officers retired. The other was fired, but appealed and was reinstated with back pay. He was put on desk duty for one year.

Obviously there’s a racism problem in the United States. There is most definitely a policing problem. What people are overlooking is that there is a broad, systemic culture problem. James is dead because he was homeless. He was homeless because he was mentally ill. At least one of the officers referred to him as a “lunatic”.

The police suffered no consequences because the majority of the jurors, ordinary people, thought what they did was acceptable. They got to carry on with their lives because the district attorney didn’t think there was a compelling enough case to retry it following the hung jury. It was only barely illegal, and it would be almost impossible to find a new jury that would be willing to convict.

James Boyd is still dead.

The Shooting of James Boyd

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4 Replies to “The Shooting of James Boyd

  1. There is a humorous story I keep thinking of these days. Two men are out hunting when they come upon some tracks. They begin arguing whether they are bear tracks or cougar tracks. While they are arguing the train comes along and kills them both. It reminds me that it seems like those in authority can’t or won’t focus on the big issue and constantly divert to irrelevant issues – possibly to a terrible outcome. All I can say is “look out for the train”.

  2. wow. : . 1800 suspects shot & killed by police across the U.S. in the 2 years prior to Dec 3 2016. Only 78 murder or manslaughter charges raised from 2005 to 2016 – 27 guilty results. The photo of 5 officers with assault rifles surrounding a man with pocket knives – too unbelievable. Though I do come from L.A. – where they literally use a tank to break into suspected drug dealers homes – occasionally smashing into the wrong home. And you still have people saying “if they didn’t do anything wrong, the police wouldn’t be trying to arrest them” I knew people who suggested the LAPD change its slogan from “to Protect and Serve” to ” we treat you like a King”

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