“You guys got something I can wash my hands with? I got some blood on my hands.”
-Last statement by officer in the video of the killing of Map Kong.
Today, we are told, yet again, that a secretive grand jury found that police officers were “justified” in killing a civilian. It’s tiresome. We’re tired of it. We haven’t believed in any of your rituals of hand-washing and blamelessness for decades, but we are still forced to engage it – to point out the blood still on the hands of the police, and no matter how many grand juries absolve them, no matter how many other police give them awards for the killing. There is still blood on your hands,.
Today, the victim we’re talking about is 38 year old Map Kong, a Cambodian-American man from Chaska, Minnesota who was killed by multiple officers in a McDonald’s parking lot in Burnsville, Minnesota, on March 21st, 2016. According to toxicology reports, he was high on methamphetamines at the time, which help to explain his physical and social behavior in the video, including his inability or unwillingness to engage the police in the way they ordered him to. First they broken open the windows of his car, then they tased him. Then, when he was running away from them, multiple officers shot him in the back.
Once the grand jury cleared the officers, they released the video. KTSP has released it on their web page, here:
According to the initial reports this took place around 06:15 AM, and the police officers justified the multiple gunshots into Map Kong’s back by claiming he posed a threat to rush-hour traffic.
I hope we’ll learn a lot more about Map Kong: his life, his family, his friends. Where he worked, how he lived. What story brought him to use methamphetamine and be in that parking lot alone in the predawn darkness outside a McDonald’s in Burnsville, Minnesota? Born in 1978, it’s likely he was born in Cambodia or Thailand, under or fleeing the Khmer Rouge, and spent his early years in these camps before moving to the midwest of the United States.
But this is not that writeup. This is the writeup of the video itself. And the police will tell you that the police cannot be expected to know the stories and lives of the people they are empowered to kill.
There are many questions to ask. Here are a few crucial ones:
- What need was there to physically confront Map Kong at all? Despite one officer’s insistence that he couldn’t see in the rear, it is obvious that most officers are confident that Map Kong is in the car, by himself, with the windows closed, and aside from a knife, unarmed.
- Indeed, the officers discuss ‘containment’ as the first viable option, around 06’23 in the video. However, they elect for a far more confrontational and physically dangerous strategy: to break open multiple windows in his car, and to taze him. In what person’s mind was this a reasonable response? Is it possible the officers were too impatient to simply wait out the episode of a person experiencing a mental crisis event without attacking? If they had, Map Kong would likely be alive today. What justified this escalation of force?
- What justifies the shooting of a fleeing civilian, who has done no one any harm, and has committed thus far, to the knowledge of the officers, only the crimes of not obeying orders of police officers, in the back? They shot him in the back. Multiple times. They say it was to prevent him from rushing into rush-hour traffic. That seems like extremely bad reasoning.
Throughout, the officers seem overly eager to see physical action. The body-cam wearing officer cocks his rifle barely seconds out of his vehicle. Another male officer gratuitously aims his sidearm at Map Kong through a closed window, holding his gun in a sideways ‘gangster’ grip. Officers are told by another officer multiple times to put away their firearms, including while they are currently beating windows out of a car. I’d like to hear the Chief of Police explain the training on those procedures.
TIMELINE (Note that time markers here are approximate, not precise).
- 00’45 – officer parks and exits car, rifle in hand.
- 00’55 – cocks rifle while walking towards another officer, parked between him and the parking lot, standing at the front of his vehicle. At no point does the officer stop walking toward the lot.
- 01’02 – Mentions the man in the parking lot, claims he’s “got a big knife.”
- 01’05 – “I’m on already,” apparently a reference to his body cam.
- Car is approached. Map Kong is visible in the front driver’s side seat. He is rocking back and forth (almost like head banging), and occasionally swinging his arms from side to side around his body. In a few moments, metal objects become visible in each hand. There doesn’t appear to be anyone else in the car.
- 01’18 – first yelled orders to exit car.
- 01’19 – 138 (Squad reference) – 10-33 (Emergency – need immediate assistance).
- 01’33 – first “Drop the Knife” order, of many repeated orders.
- 01’50 – Map is flailing about with the windows still closed.
- 01’52 – Decision is made to ‘box him in.’
- 02’02 – Map appears to realize what’s going on for a moment, raises both hands; one holding a metal object, showing them to the officers through the closed window, but is still shaking his hands. He looks really scared to me. This lasts until shortly after about 02’18. He starts to rock back and forth again.
- 02’45 – Officers discuss tazing him.
03’24 – “This is gonna go badly either way.”
- 03’44 – The first civilian car drives behind Map’s vehicle, indicating traffic has not been blocked. It will not be blocked until later. Multiple civilian cars drive through the scene.
- 04’47 – Officer approaches with weapon drawn and aimed.
- 05’01 – Discussion of possibility of gun in car by one officer.
- 05’24 – first mention of blocking traffic
- 05’40 – Squad vehicle parks behind Map’s vehicle, blocking him in from the rear. Officer emerges with sidearm pulled, aimed at Map Kong in improper, sideways, ‘gangsta’ grip.
- 06’23- Options discussed. Contain him, “Pop the back window out and tase him,” or “[AUDIO TROUBLE] that car.” One officer asks if he’s alone. Another officer quickly replies ‘Yes.’ Body cam officer (who seems more hyped up throughout) says he thinks Map is alone, but can’t see because the window is fogged up.
- 07’00 – Decide to pursue option 2: breaking windows and tazing Map.
- 07’22 – Male officer (the one who parked behind Map and used a ‘gangsta’ grip, I believe) starts using baton to beat out rear passenger side window. Has to be instructed to put away his firearm while doing so.
- 07’40 – Same officer breaks front passenger window.
- 07’44 – Same officer steps towards broken passenger window with taser, and fires taser into Map.
- From this point on, there are repeated orders to drop the knife. The officers are apparently unaware of the effects of tasers on making muscles convulse involuntarily, thus making dropping anything voluntarily difficult if not impossible in many circumstances. Or they know this and don’t care.
- 08’08 – Map manages to pull the taser plants from his body, opens driver side door, slides to the ground.
- 08’12 – As he runs away, with his back to the camera and to all the officers, multiple gunshots are heard. I can’t count them. He falls forward onto his face.
- 08’30 – Map Kong’s body, still facedown and motionless, is handcuffed.
- 08’55 – Officer puts on gloves.
- 09’11 – Turning over Maps’ body? Officer has to be reminded to put away firearm again.
- 09’28 – Instructions given to an officer regarding witnesses and cameras.
- 10’05 – Declares no pulse.
11’45 – “Nothing you could do, man.”
- 11’50 – “Couple of witnesses there?” “Yes.”
- 14’17 – Shroud covers Map’s body.
- 14’30 – Officer claims to identify the two knives in Map’s possession on the ground.
14’52 – “You guys got something I can wash my hands with? I got some blood on my hands.”
7 thoughts on “On the murder of Map Kong by Law Enforcement”
Map worked with me at True Thai five years ago. He trained me in as a prep cook. He was a great guy and funny as hell, but I could tell he had a hard life. I’m pretty sure he spent the first part of his life in Southeast Asia, on the run from the Khmer Rouge.
Anousone, the lead chef at True Thai, was killed by Amy Senser in 2011.
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Thank you for writing in, Timothy, and for making the connection of their shared workplace, and the shared violence they suffered. We have to stop this.
Thank you, I had the same response to the video. If the police had done nothing he would still be alive. They basically attacked him in his car. Could they have waited and had a mental health professional respond to the scene? It seems like the police have this unstoppable drive to force the resolution they want in every situation. What was the hurry? Why so many officers? 15 shots as he is running away? It seems like the Chief is proud of the actions that were taken. So sad
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So why didn’t officers surround the vehicle so they could physically stop him without firearms? And what “unlawful behavior” triggered the event in the first place–sitting in a car? And what evidence would that grand jury require to charge the officers–eyewitness testimony from a rabbi, a minister and the Pope?
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This was a truly unfortunate situation. I just watched the eight minute long video and I have worked in law enforcement and mental health and this didn’t have to end in a death. Map Kong was clearly responding to internal stimulation and appears to be having a, somewhat typical except for the knives, psychotic episode that would have probably responded well to treatment. If he was successfully hospitalized he could have been safely home in ten days. The police could have been better trained, the municipality could have a SWAT style rapid deployment mental health emergency team on the scene, they could have had police dogs, the tasers could have worked better, maybe they could have used other less than lethal options like bean bag shots, mace, sticky foam, or a web shot (which is like a net). Unfortunately the taser didn’t work and none of the other options were available. I don’t know of any city that has all of those other options; there are limits to resources. The police don’t operate in a hypothetical world, they have to deal with reality, there is no pause button, they didn’t have a police dog, the taser did not work, and Map Kong was a clearly a threat that had to be dealt with. Had the police not responded it is likely that he would have ended up hurting himself or someone else – simply put he was endangering the public. The police are not mental health experts, maybe they should be, but they are not; nor can they read minds; they didn’t know Map Kong had a history of mental illness or that he was under the influence of drugs that are also likely to cause psycosis. All they knew was he was sitting in a car in the McDonalds parking lot at six am wildly thrashing around and menacingly waving a knife and was not responsive to repeated commands to disarm himself and that they could not allow him to continue to do that. I wish the police had had more options, I wish a half a dozen well trained mental heath professionals had responded and were able to safely and expertly diffuse the situation. I wish Map Kong had stayed home, wasn’t mentally ill, hadn’t been using meth, and was was unarmed; I am sure the police and his family wish the same thing. Wishes don’t always come true and in the end the police stopped Map Kong the only way the could have.