The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
The unprovoked, two-day shooting rampage in Paso Robles is a wakeup call: We need police.
Defunding or even disbanding police agencies — as some protesters have urged — would be a disaster.
This series of shootings, which left one man dead and four officers wounded, could easily have resulted in even more deaths and injuries had law enforcement not responded as quickly and professionally as it did.
For that, we’re extremely grateful to all agencies that took part, and we join the community in wishing the injured officers speedy and full recoveries.
It’s now apparent that the shooter, Mason James Lira, 26, suffered from serious mental illness; his father told the Associated Press that Lira was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome and had been in and out of jail and treatment centers.
“He lives in a fantasy world,” Jose Lira said. “He doesn’t have a beef with the police.”
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His son’s history of minor crimes and a Facebook page full of cryptic, nonsensical posts also don’t suggest antipathy toward law enforcement.
Yet nevertheless, somehow he ended up in Paso Robles, repeatedly luring officers into shootouts that Sheriff Ian Parkinson labeled as ambushes.
The timing couldn’t have been any worse, both for the community and law enforcement, coming off more than a week of emotional protests against police brutality.
That led some to conjecture that the spate of violence seemingly targeting police might be linked to the fervor of recent public sentiment.
Even Parkinson had difficulty not connecting those dots.
“This (shooting) is really upsetting a tremendous amount of people right now and we hope that they won’t turn it into an attack on what they believe caused this, but it’s hard to ignore that,” he said at Wednesday’s news briefing.
Asked what might have led the suspect to want to ambush police officers on Wednesday, Parkinson responded: “Well, that’s a good question, and once he’s in custody maybe we’ll know the answer to that, other than that’s been kind of the general theme floating around the nation right now, this rise-up, anti-law- enforcement coalition.”
On Thursday night, Parkinson was more circumspect.
“I don’t know what motivated him to do this, whether that encouraged him in this behavior, or if he was simply predisposed to this,” Parkinson said. “Hopefully, we’ll find out more.”
To be clear, there are no indications Lira was affiliated with any type of movement.
There are many indications he was a deeply disturbed individual.
Here’s just one one Facebook post from 2018: “Ill turn in when all the celebrities and men and women who have ever killed me or raped me or tortured me come forward and get 15 years to life in prison. No Parole. I actually wont turn in, because you poisoned me.”
And there are troubling incidents from his past, including an episode in 2019, when he was ejected from an Amtrak train in Oregon after he threatened passengers and a train conductor. A SWAT team responded in that case.
Also, there’s this question: If the suspect was targeting police officers, why shoot a homeless man in the back of the head?
Lira’s death means we’ll never have all the answers, but a thorough investigation of his background may turn up useful information. If we’re to prevent other similar shootings, we need to know more about his case for clues as to whether this could have been prevented.
How did the system fail him, and what more could have been done to avoid this fate?
That’s more productive then pointing fingers at a protest movement — especially since protesters are raising issues highly relevant to this case, which is a classic example of a time when better social services on the front end might have prevented violence on the back end.
We don’t want to see our citizens so damaged they put themselves into situations like this. Likewise, we don’t want to turn the personal problems of an individual into a community emergency that puts police officers in danger and requires deadly force to resolve.
So we must work harder toward that aim, channeling the passion of the moment into meaningful reform.
At the top of that includes advocating for more funds for mental health services, to relieve police officers from having to serve as de facto mental health workers.
Yet, no matter how much effort or money we put to that cause, bad things will still happen, and we need law enforcement here to answer the call.
So on the question of disbanding police? No.
But can we work to improve the system so our most vulnerable community members are treated with care and respect? Absolutely yes.
©2020 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
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