December 18, 2008

CNN reports on the death of Billy Joe Johnson

Original post on December 18, 2008

I grew up around firearms. Sure, I've been in Japan for over twenty years, but that doesn't change the simple fact I was shooting guns long before I was driving. At nine or ten, I often sat my father's garage helping him reload ammo. I shot my first deer when I was thirteen, my first wild pig when I was sixteen. Long before I joined the army I could spend a day at the shooting range, fire hundreds of rounds through a variety of weapons, and never have a single round land outside the center three-inch circle of a target, with the vast majority far inside the two-inch bullseye. I'm no expert, but I'm darn good with both handguns and rifles.

I haven't done much shotgun shooting. Very little. I wouldn't want to depend on taking a bird on the wing in order to eat. Nonetheless, there are certain facts that do not change no matter what kind of weapon you are using. Most important of all, in any gun-related death, there are only three possibilities: accident, suicide, homicide. That's it. So when I watch the video above, a few possible scenarios immediately come to mind:

1) The patrolman demanded to inspect a shotgun being carried in the back of the teenager's pickup truck. The teen, being foolish and unfamiliar with firearms, had put the shotgun in his truck fully loaded and while he was pulling it out something snagged the trigger and the gun discharged, killing the teen. Or perhaps the patrolman tried to remove it himself but the teenager grabbed it, causing the patrolman to accidentally depress the trigger.

2) The patrolman spotted the shotgun, felt threatened, pulled his sidearm and shot the teen.

3) The patrolman found the shotgun and shells in the back of the truck, pulled it out, loaded it, and was menacing the teenager when the gun went off accidentally because the officer in question was not properly trained to begin with, or perhaps he was just a rabid racist and decided to kill the teenager so he pulled the trigger intentionally.

4) The teenager was so humiliated to have been pulled over that while the patrolman was checking his license he retrieved his shotgun and committed suicide.

Somehow I simply cannot believe #4. There is no way in all creation that Billy Joe Johnson committed suicide. If he were that unstable, he probably wouldn't be carrying a shotgun around. So either the gun accidentally discharged while Billy Joe was attempting to remove it, in which case it's his own fault for being foolish enough to carry a loaded shotgun in his truck, or the patrolman pulled the trigger. The patrolman might not have been a rabid Mississippi racist looking for an excuse to take down a black kid. He might have been attempting to remove the shotgun when Billy Joe grabbed it and attempted to stop him. Again, if that is the case then Billy Joe made two mistakes, the first was transporting the shotgun with a round in the chamber and the other was interfering with the patrolman.

So basically, I am reasonably certain that one of two results will be determined by the investigation. Either the death was Billy Joe's own fault because he did not unload his shotgun before putting it in his truck, or the patrolman killed him intentionally and is now trying to cover it up.

In either case, human error led to this untimely death of a gifted high school student. It's not the fault of "lax" American gun laws. It's not the fault of "America's love affair with guns". It's either human stupidity or human sadism, neither of which can be regulated out of existence.

For what it's worth, and being pure speculation it's not worth much, with the little information that has been released so far my first impression is that the patrolman shot Billy Joe Johnson with his sidearm, which makes the shotgun nothing more than a great big red herring.

Update on December 23, 2008

Now this is odd. Apparently another police officer was responding to a burglary just a few blocks from where Billy Joe Johnson was pulled over. Even stranger, the burglary victim had already identified Billy Joe Johnson as the burglar!

More information is here:
Newly Released Police Documents
Sun Herald Response to the Press Release

If I was slightly suspicious before, I am deeply suspicious now.

Update on August 5, 2010
According to a Fanhouse article from Feb. 12, 2009, a Grand Jury concluded that Billy Joe Johnson's death was accidental. I have not been able to find any additional details.

If I were to offer an assumption, my best guess would be heavy cocaine usage (as described in the original reports from his autopsy) contributed to careless handling of his firearm while he was removing it from behind the seat of his truck. Why he was removing it and what his intentions were will remain a mystery. Even if some evidence emerges later, the death remains a tragic end of a young life on the threshold of greatness.

Like everyone else at the time I allowed the media to manipulate my suspicions. For that, I am truly sorry. Over the past year and a half I have become ever more unwilling to believe the reports offered up in American media concerning events in our world. Nowadays I treat every report with a heavy dose of cynicism, especially if the report is attempting to portray some event as racist in nature or intent.

It is truly a sad statement of our times that we can no longer trust journalists to be objective reporters of the facts.