The case of the shooting death of Rigoberto Alpizar by air marshals in Miami on Wednesday took an interesting turn. We have the official line, which hasn’t changed:
“He was belligerent. He threatened that he had a bomb in his backpack,” said Brian Doyle, spokesman for the U.S. Homeland Security Department. “The officers clearly identified themselves and yelled at him to ‘get down, get down.’ Instead, he made a move toward the backpack.”
But now this emerges:
Passenger John Mcalhany told The Associated Press on Thursday that Alpizar bumped into him as he ran off the aircraft, and he did not hear him say anything about a bomb.
“The first time I heard the word bomb was when I was interviewed by the FBI,” McAlhany said. “They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, ‘What is the B-word?’ And they were like, ‘Bomb.’ I said no. They said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I am.”
Mary Gardner, another passenger, also said Thursday she not hear Alpizar mention a bomb.
Obviously I have no idea which version is true. I’m no less inclined to assume that the air marshals acted properly. However, this is why we investigate these cases. We don’t want cover-ups on mistakes to allow the government to save face. If the air marshals erred in their judgment of the situation or disregarded the reality of the situation with a trigger-happy response, we should find out. We assume they acted properly but leave open the possibility that they did not. Should the shooting turn out to be improper, we need to know why so we can prevent it from happening again.
Just as important, this is why public officials like Rep. John L. Mica should not be so eager with glee that a man died. Unless he wants to imply that we shouldn’t bother investigating this further because the system worked better than we expected. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, though.