An armed robbery in south Florida ended in bloodshed last Thursday after police unloaded their weapons in the middle of a busy highway, creating a 360 degree killzone which claimed the lives not only of the man taken hostage but also of one innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. Video taken at the scene shows police recklessly waving guns in all directions while ducking behind packed cars, using bystanders as human shields. Several law enforcement agencies including the FBI confirmed that 19 officers from five different agencies fired over 200 rounds at the truck, killing a total of four people: Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Hill, the two hijackers, Frank Ordenez, the UPS driver taken hostage, and Rick Cutshaw, a local union rep who was struck by police bullets while in his car.
As of yet, none of the agencies involved have taken responsibility for the carnage. When asked, FBI Special Agent in Charge George Piro said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss whether police or the accused fired first. The head of Miami-Dade’s police union however claims that the 11 Miami-Dade officers involved open fired after the two robbers “started firing first.” Steadman Stahl, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, noted that it was “unfortunate” two innocent bystanders, including the hostage, died in a hail of gunfire but reminds us that “the bad guys put all this in motion.”
Avilio Rodriguez, a witness to the shooting, told the Miami Herald that he saw more than a dozen officers surround the stopped vehicle while driving with his 9-year old son on the Miramar Parkway. As Rodriquez describes it, “There were so many police officers in that intersection at that time that there was nowhere for anybody to go. And it was fast.” Rodriguez went on to describe stopping the car, ducking for cover and almost immediately hearing gunfire as the explosive scene played out in front of him and his child.
Adding insult to injury (that injury being fatal mutilation), the United Parcel Service took to the Twitter the day of the incident to thank the police for murdering their employee, writing: “We appreciate law enforcement’s service and will cooperate with the authorities as they continue the investigation.” After some backlash, they have since amended their statement, again offering lukewarm condolences to the victims and their families but this time without specifically noting their gratitude for one of the most disgraceful displays of police incompetence in recent year, a remarkable achievement considering the terrifying rise of police violence we’ve seen this decade. UPS has also created a GoFundMe for their slain driver’s funeral, joining a swarm of unverified accounts in directing traffic away from the Ordenez family’s verified accounts while also doing what might actually be the bare minimum.
This sickening incident, the latest in a long series of documented police abuse, has highlighted once again the grave danger of police militarization. While law enforcement agencies are being given military hardware, including tanks, assault rifles, bayonets and grenade launchers, training has only placed greater and greater emphasis on officer safety, creating a paranoid gang culture where cops are actively encouraged to shoot first and ask questions later. As Professor Seth Stoughton, himself a former police officer put it in the wake of Ferguson, officer safety has taken on “almost religious significance”, with new officers taught first and foremost that “hesitation can be fatal.” New recruits are taught to suspect the worst, being shown graphic depictions of violence against police officers ad nauseam and put repeatedly into training scenarios where they are ambushed and attacked by surprise. This is all while rates of violence against police are reaching record lows nationwide. As this senseless and avoidable tragedy has demonstrated once again, police today are not being trained to serve our communities but to do war.
The lesson here is as clear as it is grim. When police become soldiers, citizens become combatants and dead bystanders are reduced to mere collateral damage. It should chill all Americans to see a badge become more and more explicitly a license to kill, available to any Punisher-wannabe with a high school diploma. This, however, has not been the case.
Perhaps the most shocking part of this all is that it’s not even that big of a story. In a country which brands itself the land of the free, police violence has only become more normalized and accepted. White America, always content to place itself above the vulnerable and the colonized, has simply looked past these horrific acts of violence. That’s to say nothing of the phenomenon of enthusiastic cop worship which arose alongside anti-police brutality movements like Black Lives Matter to actively cheer on violence against the citizenry. Between fears of civil and political strife, the proliferation of propagandistic cop dramas and true crime pulp, and, of course, good old-fashioned American racism, it seems the country is prepared once again to ignore and excuse yet more senseless deaths at the hands of our men and women in uniform. Considered alongside the ethnic cleansing currently being carried out by groups like ICE and the paramilitary militias they’ve allied themselves with, this latest tragedy heralds the worsening violence we can expect to see as the Western imperialist powers creep further and further towards outright fascism.