Michael Brown’s death on August 9th was followed ten days later by the killing of Kajieme Powell, a twenty-five year old African-American male in St. Louis, Missouri. His death was even more gruesome than eighteen-year old Brown’s and the event was caught in its entirety on video. Kajieme was seen stealing from a convenience store, merely one donut and two energy drinks. There is a 911 call. The video picks up after the fact. He waits on the sidewalk with the stolen merchandise, making a scene, baiting officers to arrive. Another 911 call is placed from the proprietor of a shop where Kajieme shouts and paces. When police arrive, they shoot and kill him with minimal provocation, just twenty-three seconds from the time of arrival.
This story is not in the spotlight of mainstream or progressive media. Missouri State Senator, Jamilah Nasheed called for a federal investigation in to the case, but no action appears to have advanced. As it follows so closely with the recent string of police killings, it seems like Kajieme’s story is being swept under the rug, as if it never happened. I want to take the opportunity to help update and spread this neglected story. Many questions posed by the Powell case could be further investigated, to help craft new policies that could prevent the loss of life and bridge a relationship between community members and police officers.
The police report states that Powell was armed and dangerous, behaving erratically, screaming “Shoot me already!” while charging with a knife in his hand pointed at them. This move warranted the two officers to use deadly force. Two 911 calls confirm the identity of Powell as the suspect as well as his erratic behavior caught on video–one of which mentions an apparent knife before officers arrive. Following the altercation, St. Louis Police Chief, Sam Dotson offered a public statement, saying he agreed with his officers decision, asking “what were they supposed to do?” He reiterated that deadly force was warranted when Kajieme charged at the officers and came within three feet of them, knife pointed at the officers. Kajieme was reported to have suffered from mental illness, but the family denied that claim on CNN, sitting beside attorney, Jermaine Wooten. Additionally, they are refuting the existence of a knife until proof is given.
The famous hacker group, Anonymous released documents that apparently identify the two officers as Ellis Brown and Randy L. Hayes. Following the accusations–including images of animal torture using police property–social media sites of these officers began to disappear, lending credence to the claims. The police department has neither denied nor confirmed the officers’ names.
The lynchpin of evidence is the video, initially released by the police department only one day after the shooting. It proves that many of the details of the event told by the chief were stretched. Watch the video only a few times and it is clear that Powell comes six to ten feet of the closest of two officers, not three feet or closer, as reported. Powell also does not rush at the officers with a knife pointing at them, but instead walks briskly around them with arms down, arms by his side when shots start firing. His behavior is not the knife-wielding maniac described. The weapon recovered is believed to be a simple steak knife, but without pictures nor internal investigation released to the public, it is unclear if he was armed at all. The final two shots came after some hesitation. Twelve rounds shot in to Kajieme Powell’s body and only thirty seconds since their arrival, officers once again ask to see his hands. Amazingly, Powell complies, as seen in the video, dying with hands up.
The Powell Family attorney, Jermaine Wooten has filed a wrongful death suit against the police department. If a knife was recovered, they say it posed no fatal threat to officers. The suit is accusing them of unreasonable force in violation of his rights, that his actions posed no initial threat, no warning shots were fired, and he continued to be fired on after his body lay motionless on the ground. The officers apply handcuffs after knowingly using deadly force. There is a protocol question there, as he was already disarmed and neutralized, knowingly with deadly force. Some have called the handcuffing act callous and unnecessary, showing a disregard for human life.
Dotson has started talking openly about the need to develop new training and policies that will reduce the use of force. Questions probing the current methods of psychological evaluation before hostile citizens enter active police duty have also started coming up. But the specifics brought up in the Kajieme Powell case seem to have fallen off the radar. Six shots fired on an unarmed teenager (Michael Brown) from more than one hundred feet away did not lead to any indictment for Officer Darren Wilson to stand trial. The case of twenty-five year-old Kajieme Powell, shot dead with twelve shots in very questionable circumstances, has been left to hang as if it were cut and dry, but with no official report from the police department, unconfirmed identities of the officers, it is very difficult to take the case to at least a grand jury, which the public now expects to be totally ineffective at indicting police officers who use lethal force. But the lack of attention from ordinary public and especially protesters is also cause for alarm, in that every death at the hands of police deserves as much attention as any other, until the case is closed.