The media reports were trickling out on social media last night. Another unarmed black man was shot by the police in Wisconsin. This one can been seen via video if you are able to stomach watching it. If we stick to the facts then we simply can say we see a man walking around his car to the driver side door. He opens the door and tries to either reach in for something or get in. Before that can happen, one of the three officers shoots him seven times in the back in front of what could be a wife, girlfriend, or family member. He was life lighted to a Milwaukee hospital and is in serious condition.
Those are the facts of the case and they are limited. Everything else around this case reveals more about us than the case. There are the unanswered questions. Why were the police there in the first place? Was the man in question the suspect in a crime or simply a bystander? Why didn’t he stay with the officers? What was he trying to do when he got to his door? Was he reaching for a gun or simply trying to get away?
I would download the video or some of the tweets in response to the video, but I’m not that tech savvy. Suffice it to say, it is a hard video to watch. Supposedly, the man’s children were in the vehicle. The woman who might be his wife or girlfriend is visibly distraught. Who knows how many neighbors off camera saw this happen. I’ll let you decide if you want to experience that or not.
The comments run the gamut as you might expect. Some were understandably horrified while others simply lamented the fact that the man resisted the police and paid the price. A few went beyond that and let their racist flag fly in front of God and everyone on Twitter. These events always bring out the ugly. Yet, it is the ugly in the mirror that can be the most jarring.
Think about the assumptions that many make. The number one assumption is that he was reaching for a gun in the vehicle. Sure, we can understand in the moment why the police might have assumed that, but where does that assumption come from for the rest of us? Some will almost immediately want to know what his criminal history was before this event. Ask yourself if that really matters. Unless those particular officers had dealt with him before, they couldn’t possibly have known in the split second they had to make that call whether he was a violent criminal or an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, his criminal history is prejudicial and largely irrelevant.
There are two things that I know from watching that. First, visuals are always more powerful than words. For many of us, the introduction to police brutality was Rodney King. Anyone would tell you it had been going on for generations, but we hadn’t seen it before. It becomes that much more powerful when you are watching it in real time.
A similar thing happened in the Ray Rice incident several years ago. He was suspended for a few games when we learned he had hit his fiancee. When the video of him hitting her surfaced he was done in the NFL. The facts had not changed. Our perception of the facts changed.
There’s a reason why this case will stick with us longer. It will be the same as the George Floyd case. The rest are just names and blurbs in the news. They blend together. It’s the main reason why people whip out their phones when they see a police interaction. Sure, the base part of them wonders if they will be responsible for a viral video. Yet, the better angels of our nature wonder if we could prevent something terrible from happening by convincing the police that their deeds will be recorded for all to see.
That brings us to the second point. This man is in serious condition. I’m not a doctor but I imagine there is a very good chance he will be paralyzed. Is that an equitable result for him walking away from police and trying to get into his vehicle? Yes, we can say he shouldn’t have walked away from the officers. Yes, we can say that he shouldn’t have tried to either reach into his car or get into his car. Yes, we can say there should be consequences for not following directives whether you are a suspect or an innocent bystander. Is paralysis one of those consequences? Is possible death a reasonable consequence?
Conservatives want you to believe there is a false choice out there. You can either support the police or you can support anarchy. You can either thank a police officer for doing a difficult and often thankless job or you can spit in their face by suggesting that maybe they could do their job better. Maybe you can take their job away by defunding them. These are all scare tactics to get reasonable people not to look at reasonable solutions to an unreasonable problem.
Black lives matter or no black lives matter, we have more police involved shootings of suspects than the next several nations combined. Sure, part of that can be attributed to gun culture. We have more citizens with guns than any other civilized nation on the planet. That’s a different topic for a different day. However, isn’t it reasonable to ask whether we are handling these situations properly? Isn’t it reasonable to ask whether we could achieve better outcomes by changing our approach?
Take this situation. Reports are that it was a domestic dispute. I don’t know what that looks like. Is it a couple that is yelling at each other at the top of their lungs? It is one adult hitting his or her significant other? Is it an adult hitting a child? These are all questions we don’t have the answer to yet. We don’t even know if the victim was a suspect at all. It is also fair to ask whether the three officers knew what was going on. Did they know the man they shot? Did they know if he was the aggressor or if he was a bystander trying to help? Is reaching out and pulling out your gun really the best approach to take in these situations?
The whole movement to defund the police is not about zeroing out police departments. Tucker Carlson famously made that point and I’m sure his audiences bought it. Again, remember the straw man fallacy. Defunding police is about taking some off their plate and spending more on other resources that might be more equipped to deal with a particular situation. I’m all for debate. I don’t personally use terms like defund because they are charged terms that usually shut down debate. I much prefer terms like reform. How do we make this better? This isn’t just some bad apples. These aren’t just isolated incidents. This is a systemic issue. If you aren’t comfortable with calling it systemic racism I completely understand. In this particular situation a white suspect may have suffered the same fate. Does that make it anymore right or wrong?
What I do know is that there are reasons why I didn’t become a police officer. I hate guns. The idea of having to take someone’s life is not something I’m comfortable with. I know that about myself. I also know that sometimes police officers have to make hard choices in a split second. I think we all get that. I suppose what most of us are probably thinking is that this situation should have never happened. It doesn’t mean the officers are necessarily evil or criminally negligent. That’s for an investigation to decide. What it means is that we need to do something different to get a different outcome. Until then, we are going to keep seeing more and more of these videos.