Most people are aware of the New Year’s Eve tradition of shooting guns in the air at and around midnight to celebrate the coming of the new year. A lot of people hate it and think it’s dangerous, but no reasonable person believes someone should lose their life over the practice.
Just after midnight on January 1, in Canton, Ohio, 46-year-old James R. Williams was shot and killed by a police officer, who, according to James’ family, shot him without warning as he was shooting an AR-15 rifle that belongs to his wife in the air, according to the New York Times, which noted that police body camera footage confirms that the cop didn’t say a word until after he started firing through the obscuring fence that separated him from his shooting victim. After the officer started firing, he reportedly shouted, “Shots fired, shots fired! Police! Get down now! Police! Get down now!”
“Out of the blue, he said he got shot, he got hit,” Williams’ widow, Marquetta Williams, told The Canton Repository. “I don’t know where it came from. Nobody said anything. They didn’t say, ‘Police.’ They didn’t say, ‘Freeze.’ They didn’t say, ‘Drop your weapon.’ They just shot him.” She also said other people in the neighborhood had also been firing into the air, which, of course, makes sense because people do this every single year to bring in New Year’s Day.
According to the Repository, Canton Police Chief Jack Angelo has asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to investigate the shooting, but it appears Angelo is already trying to set things up so the killing appears to be justified.
Angelo released a statement Saturday saying that Williams—a father of six girls, three of whom were at the home at the time of the shooting, along with his wife, his mother’s cousin and her nephew-in-law—was armed when police answered a call related to gunfire at 12:06 a.m. To illustrate how insidious cops are when reporting police-involved shootings, the release said “the officer, who was outside of his vehicle, confronted a subject that began shooting a firearm,” and that “officer, in fear for his safety, fired his duty weapon at the subject and struck him.”
The language Angelo chose for this statement appears to be an intentional effort to make it sound like Williams opened fire on police officers, and not into the sky.
So yeah, the New Year’s tradition of shooting in the air might be hazardous, but it’s clearly nowhere near as dangerous as a cop’s fear.