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Clarence E Coats Jr, 41
Columbia, Missouri
May 13, 2017

Agencies: Missouri State Highway Patrol DPS

Last updated: 9 months ago

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The Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control is now investigating a deadly officer-involved shooting that happened in Columbia Saturday evening.

Columbia police and Boone County sheriff's deputies responded to reports of a man threatening people with a gun and firing shots on the 100 block of Oak Street just before 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Highway Patrol identified the man Sunday as Clarence E. Coats Jr., 41, of Columbia. 

Authorities said Coats fired several shots at police and deputies when they arrived at the scene. He then fled on foot and climbed onto a rooftop of a building in the 600 block of Garth Avenue where police said he fired more shots at officers.

A CPD officer returned fire, hitting Coats. He was taken to University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy is scheduled for Monday, said Sgt. Scott White, with the highway patrol.

White said a deputy suffered minor injuries, but no one else was hurt.

ABC 17 News was able to speak with Coats Jrs' sister, who said Coats was struggling with a mental illness that made him act out and that he didn't have any premeditated hate towards law enforcement. 

Although the family wishes the incident ended differently, the family isn't upset with police. 

White told ABC 17 News on the phone that it could be months until we know more details, due to the nature of the investigation. 

As of right now it's unknown how many shots were fired in total, or what kind of gun was used. Family members say he was using a deer rifle. 

Bryana Larimer, Columbia Police Department public information officer, told ABC 17 News the department policy is to place the officer involved in the shooting on administration leave until the investigation is over.

The Columbia Police Department told the Missourian that a gunfight occurred between police officers and Coats, which resulted in his death. Many rumors and allegations are in motion in the Columbia community. Some say Coats was firing a weapon in the community but aiming at no one. Others state that Coats was a clear and present danger to residents and the police, and that the police responded with reasonable force after accessing the situation. 

The one fact beyond question is that Coats, a member of a multi-generational family of Columbia's African-American community, is dead. He was killed by the Columbia Police Department.

In the wake of this tragedy, questions regarding police methods of de-escalation and implicit bias are aflame once again. Was there an alternative available to the police that could have produced a result other than death? This is not a new question nor one without contemporary and historical impact. We are all aware of incidents of police using excessive force in volatile situations.

The deaths of black men across this country make all of us ask what else could have been done to prevent such a tragedy. To ask this question does not make you anti-police. I, for one, am a supporter of good community policing and of good police officers. In fact, I needed the help of police at my residence a few weeks ago. A CPD officer by the name of Chris Williams arrived at my residence promptly. He investigated the situation professionally and discussed the situation with me with a sense of compassion, courtesy and respect. I do not think I this was a unique experience. I think rather that Officer Williams exemplifies what is good about the Police Department and what community policing can be. The problem is that there are too many police officers that either think that all black people are violent lawbreakers who must be confronted with force or that we are ignorant sub-humans who cannot think and speak with knowledge, rationality and passion.

Of course, the issue of racial bias will arise while discussing the death of Coats. Was racial bias at play? All rational people know that race always plays a part of the intersectionality of American life. To deny it is to live in the absurd. The problem for me is that there are no objective criteria by which we may judge how much negative racial thinking plays a part in this and other similar situations. This is compounded by the fact that we live in very different, racially shaped worlds, and that historically race has been denied as a factor in interpersonal affairs when we all know it has been a major factor. I do not know how to resolve these problems.

I realize that the Missouri Highway Patrol is investigating the incident, and I have profound respect for the department as they tend to be better trained and more racially sensitive than most city police officers. But are they free of all racial bias? Who can come to an investigation of this magnitude without prejudice, a sense of white privilege, historical pain, etc. and access the situation with a clear, rational judgment that is not — some way — racially biased? The problem is overwhelming.

The more poignant question is: How can we arrest our negative racial thinking to rightly judge incidents that result between the police and people of color in a way that benefits the common good?

The tragedy of the death of Coats stirs up all these questions and many more. My belief is that we can find a way to improve the relations between police and people of color in such a way that no parent will have to bury their child because of a police shooting.

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