The last time I posted on this blog was back in February, and it was about the pervasive racism in our country that results in the killing of black youth with some impunity:
My heart goes out to the families of black youth who were and will be killed because they are black. I could not and likely would not have said what Jordan Davis’s mother said after the jury verdict yesterday. Her comments may have prevented riots, but Jordan Davis did not get justice yesterday. And nor will the next black teen unless there is a tectonic shift in our country.
There has been no tectonic shift since then, and now Ferguson, Missouri is dealing with yet another senseless death of a teenager – this one at the hands of a police officer who was sworn to protect and serve.
There are those who argue that since Mike Brown was unarmed, there’s no excuse and the officer, Darren Wilson, should be arrested and charged. There are those who argue that Wilson’s actions were justified. In what rational universe can the killing of an unarmed teen following a stop for walking in the street ever be considered justified? Would that we were living in a rational universe.
Yesterday, I took Baden’s preliminary autopsy results diagram to a cop I know. I won’t name him, but will just describe him as a black cop in New York City who’s almost exactly the same size as Michael Brown. And I said to him, “Show me how police can explain or justify this pattern of gun shots and this killing when Michael Brown was unarmed. How can this possibly be a justifiable killing?” The cop, who hadn’t followed the latest developments in the case glanced at the autopsy diagram and then said, “It’s easy. I’ll show you exactly how it probably went down.” And then he proceeded to demonstrate it for me, placing us about 30 feet apart.
He said from the gun shot pattern, Mike Brown probably charged the officer or kept coming towards him and wouldn’t stop.
“The kid has to get down on his knees when told to,” he said. “If he keeps moving towards the cop, the cop will fear for his own safety and will shoot.” In other words, the kid has to cooperate with the cop – or else. His words were echoed today in an OpEd headlined I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me..
“How long do you think it will take me to get to you from here to where you are?” he asked me from 30+ feet away. I looked at the distance and calculated that with his long stride, it would take less than 2 seconds to cover the distance if he charged me, longer if he just walked towards me.
“At what point do you start shooting at me if I won’t drop to the ground with hands up?” he asked me. “You can’t wait until I’m 5 feet away to start shooting because even a shot to the chest isn’t going to bring me down or stop me. You have to start shooting when I’m further away to bring me down.”
And so he demonstrated the scenario the autopsy results suggested to him, and I stood in Darren Wilson’s place and felt the fear of a huge man coming towards me and not stopping.
Would I have shot in that situation if there was already some scuffle or problem between us, as has been suggested by some witness reports? Most likely, yes. And yes, I know Officer Wilson is younger than me, bigger than me, in better shape, and is trained and had a gun and Mike Brown was unarmed, but in that moment with a huge man coming at me and not stopping, I could understand fear – if that’s what happened.
But is that what actually happened when Mike Brown was killed? I don’t know. Some witness reports say that Wilson opened fire on Brown before Brown moved towards him. All I do know is that the police keep leaking information to bias the public against Mike Brown. But even if Brown had robbed a convenience store and even if he had smoked pot, neither justifies a cop killing an unarmed man. Nor does contempt of cop justify the killing. Perhaps the only defense for Darren Wilson is that he feared for his own life in that encounter.
But then why not get back in his car and call for backup? Why pursue Brown and force the issue? How did it get to that point of no return?
There are those, like my friend in the police department, who may pragmatically say that Mike Brown’s killing was avoidable if only Brown had dropped to his knees with hands up. That may be true at that point, but how Officer Wilson handled the encounter at the very outset likely led to what became the fatal interaction. Did Wilson harass Brown or was he disrespectful to him? Would the fatal shooting have occurred if Wilson had handled things differently at the beginning? Probably not.
In considering Officer Wilson’s responsibility for the killing of Mike Brown, we should not overlook or downplay the decisions he made at the outset and the way he approached Brown and Brown’s friend at the beginning of the incident because when all is said and done, Wilson killed Brown. If you want to excuse or rationalize it by decisions Brown made in responding to the situation, then you must also consider decisions Wilson made at every stage of the interaction. Despite his huge size, Brown was just an 18-year old kid. The officer was the one with the training and duty to handle this better.
But I’m still struck by how my friend, an experienced police officer, immediately understood how this could all happen and be considered justifiable in the police’s eyes.
Yes, I know what some of you are likely thinking now. “Well, he’s a cop, so of course he’ll just try to justify this or see it this way or lie to cover up wrongdoing by Wilson. Even though he’s black, he’s blue.”
And nine out of 10 times, you’d probably be right, except that my friend actually hates cops and only became a cop to get them to stop harassing him. But more on that in my next post.