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Police try to make case shooting of teenager was justified

Police try to make case shooting of teenager was justified
Comissioner Kevin Davis at a press conference on the shooting of teenager Dedric Colvin. (Brandon Weigel)

Two guns were placed on the table in front of the podium in the Baltimore Police Department's media briefing room. One was a Beretta 92FS, the other a Daisy PowerLine Model 340. The latter is BB gun, but it is almost indistinguishable from the former.

The Daisy was in the hand of 14-year-old Dedric Colvin when police chased him in East Baltimore. They shot him twice, once in the shoulder and once in the leg. This particular police-involved shooting had a tragic irony to it that was not lost on Police Commissioner Kevin Davis: It happened on the one-year anniversary of the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

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Davis held a press conference the following afternoon to make the case that his officers did the right thing. "I've been saying all along that, as the city's police commissioner, I'm gonna call balls and strikes. I'm gonna call it like I see it."

He told reporters the two plainclothes detectives were on their way back from a meeting at headquarters about the rise in violent crime that's occurred of late. They saw Colvin walking down East Baltimore Street with a basketball in one hand and the BB gun in the other. They announced themselves as police and told him to drop the gun.

Colvin ran, and the two officers chased him about 150 yards, to Aisquith Street, where Davis said Colvin turned toward the officers and 12-year BPD veteran Thomas Smith shot him.

In the eyes of the police, this is their job. They respond to threats. He offered a hypothetical to the reporters of any citizen walking in Baltimore with what looks like a gun.

"What do they want the police to do? What do they expect us to do? Drive by? We can't call 9-1-1, we are 9-1-1. What do the citizens expect us to do?" he said. "If that happens in front of your house, your street, your neighborhood, and someone's walking down the street with what looks to be a gun in his hand. The response, in my opinion, is for the police department to do something about it."

"This has nothing to do with police-community relations," he later said. "This is a police response to a person seen in broad daylight with a gun in his hand in the middle of the street."

Davis was asked about reports from witnesses that Colvin yelled "It's a fake! It's a fake!" and said the department is still investigating. The officers under his charge have no way of knowing unless they are "on the receiving end of that gun as [are] staring down the barrel of it and the trigger is pulled. That's the only time we're ever gonna know if it's a replica."

(Brandon Weigel)

An independent witness told the police Colvin still had the gun in his hand when he turned around to face the officers, Davis said.

A reporter also asked about the handling of Colvin's mother, who was seen in a video provided to City Paper being handcuffed by officers. He said that it was a "judgment call that they made given what was happening at that very emotional, emotional moment."

Was it the right call? The questions are still bouncing around.

"So I don't know that I know enough to call a ball or strike on that one yet," he said. "I promise I will when I know more about it."

Another reporter touched on the department's goal of getting illegal guns and trigger-pullers off the streets and posed a different hypothetical: "If someone is walking outside with a realistic looking gun, are they in jeopardy of being chased and shot by the police?"

"Well, that's a provocative question," he said.

And then he answered: "I understand the nature of the question. But I think it's not a good idea in Baltimore, or elsewhere, to walk outside of your home with either one those objects in your hand, whether it's real or not. Because you place the community in jeopardy, you place yourself in jeopardy, and you place public safety in jeopardy when you have one of those in your hand."

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The ACLU of Maryland doesn't seem to think it's that cut and dried. Hours after Davis' press conference, they released the following statement: "Fourteen year old boys play with BB guns all over the country every day without getting shot by police. It dehumanizes Black children when law enforcement and our society so quickly seek to justify a shoot-to-kill response when a Black child in East Baltimore does the same thing.

"This latest incident, on the anniversary of the Uprising for Freddie Gray, underscores the systemic lack of accountability to boys like Dedric Colvin, who they are sworn to serve."

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