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January 10, 2010

Don’t Bring a Gun to a Snowball Fight



In Washington D.C., hundreds of people gathered on a major street for a snowball fight. You heard me right. The snowball fight was organized through the popular social-networking site, Twitter, and citizens of D.C. showed up armed with earmuffs and long underwear with the intent of launching dollops of packed snow at each other all in good fun. Fun is a relative word and one person’s idea of entertainment is not the same as another’s. Suffice it to say, the adult attendance for this impromptu event was abundant giving credence to the idea that snowballs make us regress to our 10 year old self.

Because we are in the information technology age, naturally the event was captured on and posted to the web almost immediately. In the video, snowballs of white filled the sky and one snowflake mass struck a vehicle in the roadway. A man, obviously angry that a snowball struck his Hummer, exited the vehicle and brandished a gun. The police were summoned and in the video of the event, sirens are heard in the distance obviously responding to the scene.

Unbeknownst to the snowball enthusiasts, the man in the Hummer is a police officer. He is an off-duty detective and the victim of the snowball shenanigans. From the video, it isn’t clear whether the detective points the gun at anyone but it is easily seen in his left hand as he stands outside of his vehicle yelling at the trouble-makers.

As a police officer, you would probably assume that I would be able to clearly see the perspective of that detective in this situation. After all, there are some scenarios for which police action is necessary for officer safety. These reasons may be unclear to the common citizen until explained.

This is not one of those scenarios. In fact, I’ve got nothing. I’ve watched the videos depicting the incident several times and it is unclear to me why the officer felt it necessary to even exit his vehicle and pull his duty weapon in response to a snowball striking his vehicle. If I owned a Hummer and were safely nestled inside the armored mass of metal, I can only imagine that my reaction would be that of amusement as a snowball launcher tried to infiltrate.

The video reveals the crowd’s disbelief as they learn the man with the gun is a police officer after he shifts his jacket to reveal his badge. The uniformed police officers respond to the scene with their weapons drawn believing that there is an armed man threatening the crowd. Well, technically there is an armed man threatening the crowd but the patrol officers have no idea it is one of their own.

It was interesting to watch the scene unfold on as a completely objective bystander. Naturally, I do understand the potential for problems that may unfold when hundreds of people gather in one place for an unplanned event. Police presence certainly would have been warranted just to keep the peace and ensure no one got out of hand. Perhaps we would have issued an order to disperse if we felt that it was impeding traffic or putting anyone in harms way. Having said that, I can hardly imagine having to unholster our weapons.

Obviously, I don’t know anything about the police detective who reacted to this extreme. I wouldn’t be surprised if we learned that he is a decorated officer and a great guy who just reacted angrily after getting pelted with wet snow. If that’s the case, my hope is that he can admit to such.

One thing is clear: You shouldn’t bring a gun to a snowball fight.

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