Cops Shouldn't Pull Guns at a Snowball Fight

There are occasions when a police officer, alone and greatly outnumbered, may find it prudent to draw his sidearm and project an intimidating show of force, thereby conveying the message that anyone who gets the least bit stroppy with him will soon regret it. A snowball fight is not one of those occasions.


I’ve spent my police career in Los Angeles, where in my lifetime it has snowed but once, and where as I write these words the temperature under a cloudless sky is nearing 70 degrees, so I admit my professional experience in dealing with snow storms, snowmen, snow drifts, snowshoes and, yes, snowball fights, is limited. Still, I’m confident I would not have followed the course taken by a Washington, D.C., police detective last Saturday when he found himself, alone and greatly outnumbered, in the middle of a snowball fight at the intersection of 14th and U Streets in the Northwest section of the District.

The snowball fight had been organized via Twitter and other social networking websites, and it attracted, according to participant Daniel Schramm’s thoughtful account in the Washington Post, a number of people who, like Schramm himself, were “young, well educated and politically active.” Schramm, for example, describes his own job as one in which he “analyze[s] policies designed to strengthen environmental laws in developing countries.” (And where but in our nation’s capital would you find anyone thus employed?) This demographic, he says, suggests that “a strong majority of [the snowballers] support new laws on climate change and health care. It was no accident that the detective’s vehicle, a gas-guzzling Hummer, was targeted for snowballing.”


Thus the stage was set for Saturday’s confrontation: a crowd of young, environmentally aware citizens sharing their communally held thoughts on global warming in the middle of a pre-Christmas snowstorm. Many of the revelers, sadly for the detective, were equipped with cellphone cameras and the like, with which they captured the events for posterity. There they were, flinging the white stuff hither and thither and having a rollicking, holly-jolly time when along came the gargantuan maroon Hummer, an opportune target for both their scorn and their snowballs. This four-wheeled leviathan, driven no doubt by some soulless Republican whose indifference to the perils of global warming was betrayed by his choice in transportation, simply cried out to be pelted. So, with limitless ammunition at their disposal, a few people in the crowd let loose a barrage.

But the soulless Republican did not simply drive on and proceed to the nearest Toyota dealer to trade in the beast for a Prius or two. No indeed. Instead he stepped from the climate-controlled comfort of the Hummer and had a few choice words for those who would dare throw snowballs at him and his cherished automobile, which he probably left idling to further despoil the planet with its emissions. And, what was that? Was that a … good grief, the guy pulled a gun!  “Don’t bring a gun to a snowball fight,” the crowd shouted over and over at the man, their derision cutting and apparently well justified.


Someone in the crowd wound up and pegged the armed man right in the kisser with a snowball, and while one must admire the deftness of the throw, one must also question the thrower’s wisdom. For while it’s certainly true that one shouldn’t bring a gun to a snowball fight, it’s even less advisable to bring a snowball to a gunfight. This was the District of Columbia, after all, where people have been shot dead on far less provocation than being smacked in the puss with a snowball.

Fortunately for the snowballers, and for that one most keen of eye and arm in particular, the gun-toting man was an off-duty police detective, a man whose use of his pistol is presumably governed by more self-control than that commonly exhibited by others in the District, where in more clement weather the snowplows are used to clear away the victims of gunplay that have accumulated overnight.

The incident was resolved peacefully enough when uniformed D.C. officers, responding to reports of a man with a gun, showed cooler heads than the detective, who went so far as to pull Mr. Schramm out of the crowd and jostle him around a bit in the mistaken belief that Schramm had thrown a snowball at him. Schramm was soon released and all concerned went on their way, but the incident lives on on YouTube and countless other Internet sites.

The detective was reported to be Michael Baylor, a 25-year veteran of the force, a tenure ordinarily sufficient to have instilled calm rationality in most police officers. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier called Baylor’s conduct “totally inappropriate.” And it probably was, but the chief’s remarks nonetheless brought a rebuke from Kristopher Baumann, the head of the D.C. police officers’ union. He rightly suggested that the chief reserve judgment until the internal affairs investigation is complete.


And given the sudden notoriety of the Battle of 14th and U, that investigation will no doubt be exhaustive, consuming scarce police resources in a city that as of December 23 had seen 136 homicides, not a single one of which has received the kind of worldwide media attention given to a snowball fight. Now that’s something to throw snowballs about.


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