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AK-47 era: Play time is no longer cops & robbers

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POSTED October 24, 2013 11:58 p.m.

•Seventy law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty during 2012 in the United States. Forty-nine of them were gunned down.

•Police officers were shot and killed 70 times by someone under the age of 18 in a 10-year period ending in 2003, according to the latest FBI statistics on cop killers based on age. The youngest killer was 15.

•A few years back, a Los Angeles Police officer was shot but not killed by a 12-year-old he thought had a toy gun.

•An AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle can get 40 rounds off in a minute. At full automation, it can fire off 100 rounds.

•A 12-year-old Sparks boy shot and killed a teacher Monday on the school playground.

•Andy Lopez, 13, was walking down a Santa Rosa street Wednesday carrying an AK-47 assault weapon replica that looked strikingly like the real thing. It did not have the orange or red tip on it that identified it as a toy.

•Two Sonoma County Sheriff Deputies saw Lopez carrying the gun and ordered him to drop it. But police said instead Lopez raised it in their direction. They were 20 to 30 feet away.

•Lopez was shot dead by the officers.

Everyone has an opinion about the Santa Rosa tragedy.

The most disconcerting, though, are those who essentially say the deputies should have known Lopez looked like a young boy and therefore should have responded as such.

One little problem: Sam Colt may have invented the equalizer but the AK-47 versus what a law enforcement officer carries while on duty is not anywhere near being equal.

To argue that deputies should have waited until the weapon was pointed at them to fire or to treat a young looking person differently in an armed confrontation is not reasonable. Aggressive moves are aggressive moves. A 13-year-old with a gun can kill just as easily as a 30-year-old with a gun.

Second guessing a split-second decision is something that comes easy for someone who is alive and has the luxury of being a Monday morning quarterback.

By all indication Lopez was a good kid. He died essentially for a lapse of judgment. Carrying a realistic replica of an AK-47 down the street especially minus the red tip isn’t smart, nor is ignoring a directive from a peace officer.

Yes, a 13-year-old boy probably wouldn’t give much thought — if any — to the consequences of walking around with a replica AK-47. And since they are given to impulse behavior, young teens aren’t likely to correctly size up suddenly being ordered by deputies to drop their weapon as they’re walking down a sidewalk.

If any indignation and outrage is needed it is at the world we have allowed to be created and not the deputies.

The 2013 version of cops and robbers doesn’t involve imaginary weapons or even fake-looking pistols. It involves replicas carefully crafted to look like the real deal.

Social media and the advent of hyper-fast communication has made it impossible for anyone —  including law enforcement officers — not to have the violence perpetuated by people, including those who are teens and younger be part of their reality.

Thirty years ago, a police officer would have had a different reaction coming across a 13-year-old carrying a toy weapon. The most obvious reason is the fact they didn’t look like the real deal.

The loss of a young life is tragic.

To assume, however, that the two deputies relished the position they were put in is almost as tragic. I have yet to meet a peace officer who likes the thought of firing their weapon let alone killing someone.

And given that after the fact they were able to ascertain it was a toy gun isn’t likely giving them a heck of a lot less comfort.

The bottom line is they didn’t have time to do anything except follow protocol.

Deviate from that protocol and there could have been two dead deputies plus others hurt.

Police officers aren’t perfect. When a judge asks me during jury selection if  I think a police officer is right all of the time, I’ll reply that they are probably right in 90 percent of the cases, in 9 percent there is room for doubt to some degree and that in one percent they are wrong.

The debate shouldn’t be about the protocol assuming ultimately everything comes out the way that the deputies explained it.

Instead it should center on why there is a growing disconnect between reality and the virtual world.

Such a disconnect is the only way that one can fathom anyone , including a 13-year-old, believing it is OK to walk down a street in an American city in 2013 carrying a real-looking AK-47and not expect something bad to happen.





This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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