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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

RIP film editor Karen Schmeer

I’d been trying to figure out what there was to say about the recent death of film editor Karen Schmeer, and then I found it (starting at The New York Times):

What began with a report of three men shoplifting over-the-counter drugs from a CVS on the Upper West Side has ended with an arrest for the hit-and-run death of one of the nation’s preeminent documentary editors, whose credits include “The Fog of War.”

The editor, Karen Schmeer, was “one of the greatest editors of her generation,” said Greg Barker, the director of “Sergio,” a documentary for which Ms. Schmeer won an editing award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009.

Ms. Schmeer, 39, was crossing Broadway at 90th Street just before 8 p.m. on Friday when she was run down by a rented 2010 Dodge Avenger sedan, the police said. She was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.

The police had been chasing the car, which matched the description of the shoplifters’ getaway car given by a clerk at the drugstore, at 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Patrol officers tried to pull the car over, but the driver eluded them, hitting another automobile on 87th Street before running down Ms. Schmeer.

Cops chasing armed robbers? Sounds serious. The New York Daily News contradicts some of the Times report:

Prosecutors said Schmeer was hit by the black Dodge Avenger on Broadway, near W. 90th St., shortly after McKie and two accomplices knocked off a nearby CVS pharmacy, swiping $912 worth of prescription drugs.

Were the stolen drugs prescription, or over-the-counter? Were the thieves, in fact, armed? There’s no mention of weapons in any news reports I could find. All accounts, however, indicate that this was a relatively petty crime. And the Daily News also states that the robbery had nothing to do with why the cops were chasing the getaway car:

The trio raced from the drugstore without putting the Dodge’s headlights on, drawing the attention of NYPD cop Michael Monteverde, who attempted to pull them over.

The speeding Dodge blew multiple red lights on Broadway and was weaving in and out of traffic, Monteverde testified, according to the complaint.

So, this cop set off in hot pursuit of a vehicle that did not have its headlights on. And an innocent woman is dead.

Now, I’m generally a fan of the NPYD, but its officers have certainly been known to overreact to a situation and make it worse than it might have been. (*ahem*: The other day NYPD officers handcuffed and arrested a 12-year-old girl for doodling on her desk at school.) Bad guys shouldn’t get away, of course, but their capture was not worth a human life.

Streetblog.org reported earlier this week that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is opening an inquiry into Schmeer’s death.

The final capper for me came when I walked by the location of the hit-and-run the other day, and saw the shrine that has sprung up:

(Thanks to bronxbee, who was with me and had her camera, for the photos.)

This has been your WTF Thought for the Day.



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  • Kenny

    Well.. having sat wasting the wee hours watching the occasional police videos show, I know that nine times out of ten when a car full of thieves (armed or otherwise) gets pulled over for something stupid like having a busted tail-light, they’ll assume it’s something else and put the pedal to the metal.
    After that happened, the cop wasn’t chasing them because they hadn’t put their headlights on. He was chasing them because they were driving recklessly and were likely to cause mayhem and/or death.
    It even says they eluded the cop before hitting Schmeer.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, but there’s a big difference between chasing someone across empty suburban or rural roads, and densely crowded urban streets.

  • JoshDM

    nine times out of ten when a car full of thieves (armed or otherwise) gets pulled over for something stupid like having a busted tail-light, they’ll assume it’s something else and put the pedal to the metal.

    This.

  • Bluejay

    Re: the story of the 12-year-old girl who was arrested for doodling (with an erasable marker, no less)–WTF?? The article also mentions the case of Dennis Rivera, a special-needs 5-year-old (5-year-old!!!) who was handcuffed and taken away after he threw a fit in kindergarten. Inexcusable.

  • Kenny

    I know MAJ… It’s just that if a cop attempts to pull somebody over for something, and they instantly floor it and take off, I don’t see that the cop has much of an option. He has to keep the car in sight for at least as long as it takes a helicopter to spot it.

  • LaSargenta

    Lots of municipalities have rules for the cops about when NOT to give chase. Crowded New York streets where we have a speed limit of 30 mph everywhere except the restricted access roads like the FDR (which isn’t much higher!) are certainly part of this category. This has happened before and this issue has come up and people have died or been injured.

  • Kenny

    Point well made, but does that make armed robbery (for example) and the possibility of a fatal shooting more likely if criminals know they won’t be chased? It would be interesting to see statistics. Perhaps a before and after in one of the municipalities where they have this rule?

    It’s my limited experience, (again from the cop video shows mentioned above) that almost all police departments have rules about when and how to give chase. One of the big ones is usually about keeping the target in sight and providing updates on its route, but to stay back and not attempt to physically catch it, as this might escalate the situation.

  • Lisa

    I’m sorry for that lady and her family. However, as they were speeding, doesn’t a cop have to pull them over for that?

    They’re supposed to let them go, in the hopes they would notice the police weren’t following them after a while and slow down?

  • MaryAnn

    I know MAJ… It’s just that if a cop attempts to pull somebody over for something, and they instantly floor it and take off, I don’t see that the cop has much of an option. He has to keep the car in sight for at least as long as it takes a helicopter to spot it.

    A helicopter? For a lack of using headlights?

    They’re supposed to let them go, in the hopes they would notice the police weren’t following them after a while and slow down?

    The cops are supposed to not prolong a chase that might endanger innocent civilians.

    I agree that it can be a difficult situation. You don’t want bad guys to get away with their crimes, but is it really worth the life of an innocent civilian to capture a couple of idiot shoplifters? I would argue that it’s not even worth the life of the shoplifters, in a case like this. I disagree with the death penalty, but even in the U.S., we don’t apply the death penalty to petty theft. And we certainly should not sacrifice the lives of uninvolved persons just to ensure the capture of thieves. Property should not be more highly valued that human lives.

  • Kenny

    MAJ, it’s not the lack of headlights that would justify the helicopter, it’s the fact that the car didn’t stop when asked to do so by a cop and raced off through crowded streets.

    I thought your second point was very good though. I made a point about the possibility that there is a rise in crime (including armed robbery and associated deaths) when a police department decides it won’t engage in car chases. I’d really like to see statistics for that. Logically, I’d imagine it happens to some extent, unless the P.D’s do something else instead.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    this cop set off in hot pursuit of a vehicle that did not have its headlights on.

    That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. The cop didn’t pursue the van for the headlights, he pursued the van for refusing to stop, then engaging in reckless driving. To suggest that this was only about a minor infraction dose not heighten the tragedy of accident, it trivializes it.

    The cops are supposed to not prolong a chase that might endanger innocent civilians.

    Being unfamiliar with the layout of Manhattan, I did a quick Google map. It’s a half mile between the site of the robbery and the site of the accident. Neither of those articles mention a citywide chase. So, it seems this was a very brief pursuit.

    is it really worth the life of an innocent civilian to capture a couple of idiot shoplifters?

    That assumes that the cop knew that. There’s no reason to think he did. That also implies that the cop knew that someone would die, and chose to pursue anyway. That is a ridiculous claim.

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