Umbrella As Assault Weapon: Another Victory For Paranoia

The worst thing about this kind of story, other than that it is increasingly common, is that the authorities always brag that it is a mark of success. I take them at their word. They want a chance to fly their helicopters and spend the day tracking down a “gunman” armed with an umbrella.

The teen who reported the sighting of the gunman feels conflicted about the report she made to police. But not to worry:

“Police say they would rather respond to a false report than not be there for the real thing. ‘We always err on the side of “give us a call,”’ said Laura Wohl, spokesperson for the Olympia Police Department. ‘If you think something is up, we would rather check it out and be wrong than not check it and be right.’ At the end of the day, there isn’t a much better training exercise than what happened March 12. Officers from the Olympia Police Department, Thurston and Lewis county sheriff offices and the Washington State Patrol responded. ‘When you consider we were coordinating with four different departments like that, you can’t get much better training than that,’ Wohl said.”

The teen reported a masked gunman armed with an AR-15 or AK-47. She felt conflicted because all she saw was a man with his turtleneck pulled up against the weather carrying an umbrella. The result was three schools put in “lock down,” and a police manhunt that included a helicopter scouring the area.

Michael DiMarzo had no idea he was suspected of anything. The police figured out that he was the man with the supposed weapon and began hunting him down. DiMarzo experienced this as a helicopter flying low really close to him. He actually waved his umbrella at the police as they swooped over him. Only later did he discover that they were looking for him as a suspect and had been told to interpret his umbrella as a rifle. “‘I can’t believe I did that now,’ Di Marzo said. ‘It really makes me shake every time I think about it.’”

The story goes on to record the concerns of the school faculty. The problem with putting children in “partial lockdown” (which means classes continue while doors are locked) is that, rather than feeling secure, parents tend to freak out. Modern technology means that students can tell parents immediately when the school makes that decision. Suddenly parents receive texts from their kids telling them that the school is in lockdown. The parents have no idea whether there is a gunman on the school grounds or a robbery had taken place in the neighborhood or a guy in a terrorist turtleneck carrying with an assault umbrella.

“One of the biggest hurdles in partial lockdowns is keeping parents calm. ‘Partial lockdowns are often very quick and we often don’t have time to notify parents until it’s over and that has caused some anxiety amongst our parents at times,’ [Spokesperson for the North Thurston School District, Courtney] Schrieve said. Students and parents texting each other during lockdowns can sometimes cause more harm than help if either side is not fully informed of the situation, she added. ‘We had a principal go over an announcement one time saying please quit texting your parents, everyone is safe and we are in a partial lockdown,’ Schrieve said. ‘It immediately stopped.’”

I realize that, if someone thinks they see a masked gunman, there needs to be some response. But training the populace to cooperate with lockdowns and cease communications with loved ones on orders from above really bothers me. Statistically, mass shootings and terrorist attacks are still very rare. Are we really supposed to pay for helicopters for every report?

I don’t think encouraging people to the point that they get careless and become prone to give last reports to police, is a rational way to keep society safe. I’d love to see some efforts to ensure that people only pass on accurate reports to police.