On Saturday a 19-year-old New Jersey man was arrested after he tried to drive past a barricaded entrance to the White House and refused to stop. And in an unprecedented security breach Friday evening, a 42-year-old Texas man jumped a fence and ran to the North Portico and entered the White House through an unlocked front door.
The incident Friday came less than 10 minutes after President Obama and his daughters had left for Camp David. The first lady had departed separately for the trip. The man, Omar J. Gonzalez, was apprehended after he stepped inside the foyer. Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, reportedly had 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete in his car when law-enforcement officers searched it after the incident.
The two incidents, especially Gonzalez’s story, remind me of the case of a black single mother who clearly was in desperate need of help. Last October Miriam Carey, 34, of Stamford, Conn., was killed after she rammed her car into a barricade in front of the White House and then led security forces on a chase toward the U.S. Capitol.
The big difference between Carey and the two most recent incidents is that no shots were fired and both men were taken alive. Carey, who had no weapon, was struck by five bullets in the neck and torso while still seated in a black Infiniti sedan. She died at the scene. Her family has asked whether the use of deadly force was absolutely necessary, especially while her 19-month-old daughter, Erica, was in the car.
I, too, remain curious, despite an announcement in July by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia that there was insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights or local charges against officers from the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police who were involved in the shooting. Why so many bullets? Was a single woman that much of a threat?
To be clear, anyone who threatens the safety of others has to be dealt with to the full extent of the law, but it’s unclear whether those steps required Carey to be gunned down like a terrorist. She was not brandishing a weapon, and her baby daughter was in the car.
But Carey, just like Gonzalez, is an example of someone who fell through the cracks of society, pushed to the margins by a series of setbacks and mental-health issues. Her family revealed after the incident that Carey was battling postpartum depression, had lost a job as a dental hygienist and received a traumatic head injury after a fall. She reportedly believed that President Barack Obama was electronically monitoring her Connecticut home in order to broadcast her life on television.
She left behind a trail of pain and sorrow. In a search of her home after the incident, law-enforcement agents found discharge papers from a 2012 mental-health evaluation listing medications to treat depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But it’s unknown if she was actually taking medication or if she was being treated for postpartum depression, a disease that is not uncommon among new mothers.
Indeed, Carey was a troubled soul—not a terrorist, as her heartbroken sisters told the New York Daily News.
“Deadly force was not necessary,” her sister Valarie Carey, a retired New York City Transit Police sergeant who lives in Brooklyn, told the News after the incident. “They could have rammed the car or disabled the car.”
A total of at least 17 shots were fired at two locations by officers of the federal and local law-enforcement agencies involved. D.C. police, like most law-enforcement agencies, have a strict policy against shooting at moving vehicles. But “after a thorough review of all the evidence, the U.S. Attorney’s Office concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers who were involved in the shooting used excessive force or possessed the requisite criminal intent at the time of the events,” the statement reads.
To be sure, outrage over Carey’s death never escalated to the level of protests that ensued after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, but many, including myself, continue to ask why a single mother, who clearly fell through a shredded safety net, had to die amid so many bullets.
Lynette Holloway is a contributing editor at The Root. The New York-based writer is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.