July 7, 2016

Perspective on Police Shootings

Two black men killed by police. Does the video tell the tale?

Two white Baton Rouge police officers shot and killed a black man, and the predictable outrage ensued. Video of the Tuesday incident emerged, showing Alton Sterling being wrestled to the ground and then shot multiple times in the chest while pinned by police. But as we have said before in such cases, the video doesn’t tell the whole story.

Here are some additional useful considerations. The altercation took place at a convenience store where Sterling frequently runs a table from which he sells bootleg CDs. Police were called after Sterling allegedly ordered another person away from the property at gunpoint. Sterling was indeed armed — police retrieved a handgun from his right pocket, and the video shows them wrestling his right arm during the struggle. One officer yells, “He’s got a gun!” Store owner Abdullah Muflahi said police “were really aggressive with him from the start.” But Sterling also has a long rap sheet, which includes drug, theft, domestic battery and weapons charges.

Were the responding officers aware of Sterling’s record? What exchange happened before the video? Were officers excessively aggressive? We don’t yet know these answers, making jumping to conclusions because of a “Black Lives Matter” social media hashtag the wrong thing to do. In any case, Barack “racist cops” Obama’s Social Justice™ Department has launched a civil rights investigation.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, an Asian officer shot and killed another black man, Philando Castile, Wednesday during what should have been a routine traffic stop for a busted tail light. Castile’s girlfriend, whose four-year-old daughter was in the car at the time, live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. She explained, “He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm.” Castile was legally licensed to carry and he was exercising that right at the time. He also worked for a local school and, unlike Sterling, had no prior record — though they had “weed in the car,” the girlfriend admitted. This case seems more clearly a wrongful death, but again, all the facts are not known.

By and large, the 900,000 police officers who patrol America’s streets do their jobs with dignity and honor. But there are undoubtedly bad apples in the mix, and there are unjustified police shootings. Each case should be viewed on its own merits and not pre-judged by activists with an axe to grind. And we might note to the Black Lives Matter crowd that 2,000 people have been shot in Chicago this year; 319 of them have died, and the vast majority are black. Those lives matter every bit as much as Sterling’s or Castile’s.

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