With today’s release to the general public of surveillance video that captured the shooting of Usaama Rahim last Tuesday, people on all sides caution that it’s only one piece of a much larger story.
The encounter was recorded by a surveillance camera at Burger King on Washington Street. The key figures–Rahim, Boston Police and F-B-I agents–all show up as small figures seen from a distance, or in a highly pixellated zoom.
The clearest thing to make out is that, before the shooting, the officers and agents approached Rahim, then abruptly moved back. Authorities give two reasons for this, not clearly shown on the video itself: earlier information that Rahim was plotting with “malicious intent” against local police, and his possession of what Boston Police Commissioner William Evans referred to as a “large military knife” that, at one point, was “in striking distance” of the officers.
“I don’t think at this point he was going down easily,” said Evans, defending the authorities on the scene.
“This unraveled very quickly,” he added, “and they made the right call. He was intent on taking out somebody.”
At the same news conference, Rev. Mark D. Scott, Associate Pastor of Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, also defended the actions of authorities.
“Given the circumstances,” he said, “they exercised as much restraint as possible.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said the restraint also included one officer holding fire as a school bus was passing nearby.
Representatives of Rahim’s family issued a statement after the news conference noting that the initial approach was by authorities. At first, the officers did not have guns drawn. The statement describes five law enforcement officers who “approach and surround” Rahim “in what looks to be a military formation.”
Evans said Rahim was shot after “multiple commands” to drop the knife. In their statement, representatives of the family argue that officers were trying arrest Rahim without a warrant, even though, at the outset, the video shows no visible sign of criminal activity.
“Finally,” said the statement, “since the video does not show Mr. Rahim wielding a knife, the District Attorney must fully investigate, using all available evidence, to determine whether deadly force was appropriate. Many unanswered questions remain.”