A Rose By Any Other Name

By Sgt. Jim Unland #2666

When I say, “vegetable peeler,” what do you see in your mind’s eye? I’ll wait a moment while you get the image. OK, do you see what I see — a curved kitchen implement a few inches in length used for peeling carrots and potatoes? How about if I were to ask you what you picture when I say, “machete,” “sword,” or “dagger”? Each of these words has a distinct connotation and brings to mind a different image. When the average person communicates, he or she attempts to use precisely the words needed to convey a particular (and accurate) meaning to the intended recipient. Apparently, our local newspaper writers are more interested in conveying scandal than accurate meaning.

Several years ago when a San Jose police officer was confronted by a volatile woman holding a “bladed weapon,” he ordered her to put it down. When she refused, advanced on him and raised it over her head, the officer, fearing for his life, fired his pistol at her to protect the lives of those around him as well as himself. This “bladed weapon” was approximately 10 inches in length and resembled a meat cleaver. Reporters for the local newspaper continue to refer to this bladed weapon as a “vegetable peeler,” which the officer “mistook” as a cleaver. In fact, they did it again in Sunday’s edition, six years after the incident occurred. In reality, what they call a “vegetable peeler” is a cleaver-like implement with a peeler apparatus built into the blade area. To clear up any confusion, I’m including a picture of it here.

There is a very simple point on this matter which I believe has been overlooked all these years: it doesn’t matter what we call this thing. When Bich Cau Thi Tran made the fatal decision to ignore the officer’s demands, when she decided to advance on the officer with the item in question raised above her head in a menacing and threatening manner, it was no longer a kitchen utensil of any kind — it was an instrument of death. It became the sort of deadly weapon that could prevent that officer from ever seeing his loved ones again.

I was the supervisor on the scene that night. I realize I’m probably not the most objective person when it comes to this issue. But let me tell you something: to do our jobs effectively, we rely on people obeying lawful orders. If they don’t, people can die, and no one wants that outcome. If a police officer is confronted by a person holding a bladed tool and orders that person to drop it, they should drop it. That’s what any law-abiding citizen would do because they understand the consequences at stake.

Here’s a question that no one has ever bothered to ask: Why did Tran ignore the officer’s commands and go to a drawer in her kitchen to grab this bladed instrument when the police came to her house on a child endangerment call for service? Why this particular device? What was her intent? What sort of message could she have been trying to convey to the officers? I don’t know about you, but “compliance” and “cooperation” certainly aren’t what I’m thinking. There is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn other than her obvious intent to cause or threaten to cause physical harm to the responding officers.

I’m not sure why reporters for the local paper want their readers to have an image of a harmless kitchen utensil when it comes to this tragic event. Instead of the phrasing “an Asian vegetable peeler that the officer mistook as a cleaver” how about, “an Asian vegetable peeler that looks like a double bladed meat cleaver?” If I were cynical, I might think they were trying to disparage the police department or worse, suggest the most vile use of unnecessary force.

I’m not saying that San Jose police officers are perfect and never make mistakes. But I know this for a fact: not one of the men and women I’ve worked with for the past 21 years desires to take a human life. We got into this profession to protect life. And for the local paper to suggest, imply, or infer otherwise is the only miscarriage of justice to have occurred in this whole tragic episode.

Sgt. Jim Unland is a 21-year veteran of the SJPD and a member of the Board of Directors of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association.

Comments

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I simply want to know, why shoot to kill? It may be difficult for a regular, average person to aim and shoot a limb in close proximity under those circumstances, but aren't officers trained for this?