Northwest Thoughts, Notes, Photos, Posts

We Don’t Dial 911

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Unincorporated Snohomish County near Pilchuck River south of Granite Falls – November 2021

The signs indicate preemptive homicide. They populate King, Snohomish, and Skagit Counties, along with rural locales all over the USA. In 2020 I started photographing them. The further from the urban, the more ubiquitous. Any long-term resident east of I-5 in the foothills of the Cascades National Forest, in and around towns such as Arlington, Clear Lake, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Monroe, Oso, and Snohomish, knows them well. Their messages contain the implicit warning of “Before you harm us, we will harm you” accompanied by images of rifles, pistols, or a silhouetted target of a bullet hole-riddled torso.

Examples:

We don’t dial 911 – F.A.F.O. (Fuck Around & Find Out)

Prayer is the best way to meet God – trespassing the fastest.

TRESPASSERS: I can’t force you to accept Jesus – but I can arrange the meeting.

Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out.

Warmer signs, “Home Sweet Home,” “Our Family is filled with Love,” and “Warning! You’re about to get hugged! Grandma and Grandpa’s house” outnumber the hostile, yet on unknown driveways one might focus on “trespassers will be shot” more than receiving a hug. Do owners of such signs harbor a desire to kill? Or do they simply want to be left alone?

My good friends Dan and Kendra live south of Coupeville in Greenbank. A married couple, they own guns for hunting and protection, moved to Eastern Washington, bought property on Whidbey, and started building for retirement on their five acres of woods in the middle of relative nowhere. While absent, thieves and vandals caused thousands of dollars in losses. After the third break-in they nailed a sign on a fence next to their gate: “We have firearms and a backhoe and aren’t afraid to use them.” Their tool shed, property, and residence have since remained untouched.

If a stranger wandered on to Dan and Kendra’s property, what would they do? An examination of our laws demands we ask if, within the gun lobby, simmers a tangible culture that enables a vigilante mentality? How many Second Amendment afficionados aspire to be the “good guy with a gun?” Do more households with guns lead to less crime? Comprehensive research, including that compiled by Scientific American, state otherwise. We can understand why a person might nail a “No trespassing, violators will be shot, survivors will be shot again!” warning on their fence, and the basis for Stand Your Ground, Right-so-carry, Use of Force, and Castle Doctrine ideology influencing laws, but do such regulations enable excessive self-defense and, even, a license to kill? To what extent does a citizen have a duty to retreat or call 911?

Residence in Arlington – April 2022

I do not have a gun. If a stranger took my property or was banging on the sliding door on our deck at four a.m., I would not confront. I would dial 911. But then, again, I don’t have a gun. But if I did, how would I act? Let’s return to Northwest Washington and a couple homicides.

In February 13, 2021, an Arlington couple, Joshua Tryon and Kamran Cohee, after inner tubing at Mt. Baker, passed a Loren Culp campaign sign on Highway 9 near Big Lake. Culp, a smalltown sheriff and Trump acolyte, gained notoriety during his unsuccessful 2020 gubernatorial campaign against Democratic incumbent Jay Inslee. The Seattle Times ran a feature, including a photo of a sign on Culp’s property stating, “all public officials or agents thereof” that “any officer or person who attempts to enter the property without a warrant ‘will be treated as any other intruder would.’”

Tryon, no fan of Trump or Culp, stopped, uprooted the sign, and tossed it in the bed of his truck, unknowingly under the watch of the vigilant homeowner, John Conijn. Soon Conijn and Tryon were throwing down while Conijn’s hairdresser wife retrieved a gun. When she came out the fight almost over, but she fired anyway in the truck’s direction, hitting girlfriend Cohee. Within a month the Mt. Vernon DA charged 55-year-old Angela Conijn with murder. The Conijns did not dial 911.

Less than three months later, just after midnight on June 5, 2021, Todd Smith, left a high school graduation party outside Arlington near the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River. He climbed a four foot chain link fence, crossed a line, walked up stairs of a deck of a mobile home and started knocking on a side door at around four a.m. In the police report interview, the homeowner cited being woken by loud banging and thus grabbed his firearm and went outside to warn Todd to vacate the premises. When Todd failed to heed, the homeowner twice pulled the trigger of his 38-Special. The bullets fatal. Afterward, at 4:17 a.m., his wife called 911.

If the Conijns and the homeowner who shot Smith had first dialed 911, Cohee and Smith would still be alive. The Conijns might be out a sign and Angela Conijn would be cutting hair instead of facing prison. Todd Smith may have gotten tired of knocking and left as the terrified homeowner sat in his living room cradling his gun as he waited for the police. But we’ll never know because these homeowners’ reactions precluded dialing 911.

Law enforcement, at times, deserve to be maligned, but their failures less common than their successes. Trained officers far more competent in defusing a dangerous situation than a “good guy with a gun.”

Therefore, no matter our position on the Second Amendment, use of force, self-defense, and the duty to retreat, we should examine laws concerning our duty to call 911 when possible, to heed the dispatcher’s advice, and give law enforcement a chance to do their job of protecting citizens and their property.

Written by Caleb Powell

July 6, 2022 at 10:36 am

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