A video of a police shooting has been going viral on social media today. Yesterday, a police officer in a neighboring city shot a male subject while bystanders recorded the incident. The officer has already been found guilty of murder by countless users of social media. After all, they all saw the video of the shooting and video doesn’t lie. That may be true but video can be very deceiving.
Here is the video that was making the rounds on facebook but I warn you to not play it if you do not want to see a person shot:
That looks pretty incriminating against the police officer, doesn’t it? But what the video does not tell you is the full story. An officer from the Huntington Beach Police Department contacted the subject outside a 7/11 store. As the officer began to talk to the subject, a verbal confrontation began and the subject refused to listen to any commands given by the officer. As the incident escalated and became physically violent, the officer attempted several force options, including his taser, which were all ineffective. The subject violently attacked and assaulted the officer when a struggle over the officer’s gun belt ensued. The officer tried to retain his weapon while the subject continued to grab at the officer’s belt. The subject then removed a piece of equipment from the officer’s gun belt. It was then that the officer fired his weapon at the subject.
Presenting a longer version of the incident from a different angle that corroborates the details presented in the previous paragraph, here’s a different video of the same shooting:
As you can see, this video paints a very different picture of the shooting than the first video does. Let me be explicit that I am not claiming the officer was blameless in this shooting. Even the longer video provides insufficient information for me to reach that conclusion. But by the same token, the shorter video is insufficient for a multitude of armchair cops to leap to the conclusion that the shooting was unjustified.
My point is that even a video does not necessarily provide a comprehensive understanding of all facts related to the subject of the video. In fact, a video clip can even distort the truth on the matter. So we should reserve our convictions of people in the video until the incident has been fully investigated and a we have studied a complete accounting of the results of the investigation.
It’s been a crazy week. Police officers shot two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, dead within 36 hours of each other. This immediately ignited an uproar against police in which they were widely condemned across social media. Later the same day, a sniper ambushed white police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five and injuring seven others with a semi-automatic weapon. He said he wanted to kill white officers, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Regardless of the facts behind the cases of black men killed by police that have been in the media in recent years, we don’t have a police problem. We have a problem with racism in the USA. I do not deny that there are racist police officers who treat black people differently than they do white people, sometimes killing them when it was unwarranted. But there are racist people in every profession and we don’t call racism a systemic problem in other professions.
We lack reliable data on how many black people are killed by white police officers in the USA. Whatever the number is, many of them are warranted because they occur during the commission of a crime while the officer is performing his or her duty according to standard procedures. But we can be confident that there are more black people murdered by white people who are not police officers than are murdered by white police officers. That means we have a racism problem in the USA that goes beyond police work.
Our police officers perform a critical role in our society. They bravely do their duty under the most dangerous circumstances, literally putting their lives on the blue line every day to protect the safety of all the people in their communities. The vast majority of police officers do their jobs with patience and restraint regardless of the color of the people they encounter. If you think racial violence is bad in the USA now, imagine how much worse it would be if there were no police forces enforcing the law.
Unfortunately, calling all police officers racist only exacerbates the racial division among Americans. We need to bring Americans together to fight racism across our society. Yes, that includes fighting racism in police work. But it also includes fighting racism in our schools, in voting, in housing, in government, in religion, and in all work places. Stop pointing the finger of blame for racism at police or gangs or other sectors and recognize that it is prevalent throughout America and needs to be addressed societally. Until we do so, we won’t be able to fight what racism there is in police work effectively.