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Police shootings: who is at fault?

September 20, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Shona Ortiz

On August 3, 2019, a situation that has become a mainstay of American culture took place in Colorado Springs. A police officer shot a young black male. Nearly two weeks after the fatal shooting, the family of the victim forced Colorado police to release body camera footage of what happened. The victim’s name is De’Von Bailey. He was 19 years old.

The footage shows an officer calmly asking two young black males if they can talk for a second. The officer then states that there’s been “a report of two people with similar descriptions possibly having a gun.” He then says, “Don’t reach for your waist. We’re going to just check and make sure that you don’t have a weapon, alright?” Immediately afterwards, Bailey’s friend looks over to Bailey then back at the officer, as if he knows something we don’t. Another officer can be seen approaching Bailey from behind to check his waist, and before he can even check, Bailey takes off running.

As the original officer chases after Bailey with a gun pointed at his back, you can hear him tell Bailey to put his hands up multiple times. Instead, Bailey can be seen digging into his pocket as he’s running away. At no point does he attempt to put his hands up. The officer then fires multiple rounds into Bailey’s back until he falls. Afterwards, the officers cuff him while he’s bleeding out on the ground and call for a third officer to bring over a medical kit. Ultimately, the officers do in fact find a gun in Bailey’s shorts. While the officers are cutting Bailey’s shorts off so they can reach the gun, one of the officers tells Bailey, “Stay with me brother.”

I’ve identified as black for most of my life, though now I would acknowledge that I’m mixed race as I am more Indian than I am black—something I’ve always known about myself. In the past, however, I identified more with my blackness as I grew up in a white suburban town in Massachusetts, and everyone who ever saw me viewed me as “just black” due to my dark skin and curly afro. While my mother is just Indian, my father is mostly black and native Trinidadian. When my mother and I first saw the footage of the shooting, we both asked Bailey the same question through the TV: “Why are you running away? If you don’t have anything to hide, then why are you running away?” My father, however, who has had negative experiences with cops in the past along the lines of racial profiling, had a different reaction to the footage.

He simply shook his head in disdain at the sight of an officer gunning down a young black male that was running away from him. We then proceeded to argue about whether the officer was right in his decision and whether Bailey deserved to die for disobeying the officer’s orders. After arguing with him for close to an hour and pondering it afterwards in solitude, I came to a few conclusions. For one, Bailey probably would not have run away if he did not have a gun. Second, in hindsight, the officer was right to shoot Bailey. Bailey did in fact have a gun on him, and the officer clearly shouted at Bailey to put his hands up as he was running away, which Bailey did not do, instead reaching into his pocket as he was running. In this situation, the officer was probably thinking that Bailey not only had a gun, but that he’s trying to get it out so that he could fire back. The one problem I do have with the officer is that he did not wait for Bailey to pull the gun out of his pocket. In actuality, the officer had no clear evidence that Bailey was armed before he fired. But of course, when you put all the pieces together, it is clear that Bailey likely had a gun on him. Still, a cop that was not afraid to lose his life would’ve waited those few precious seconds, for Bailey to pull out the gun before pulling the trigger.

This then leads to my final question. Did the officer have to kill Bailey for being armed? If the officer did in fact have a stun gun on him, then he just as easily could’ve incapacitated Bailey without ending his life. However, after doing more research, I discovered that according to police protocol, stun guns are only supposed to be used if the perpetrator is unarmed but is resisting arrest.

Still, my father argues that officers should do more to restrain themselves from using deadly force, and I find it unreasonable to disagree with that. At the end of the day, Bailey was a fool for running. Did he deserve to die for that? No, I don’t think so. Eric Garner and Michael Brown were foolish for resisting arrest. Did they deserve to die for it? No. Were the officers also foolish for being unable to arrest them without killing them? Yes. This problem in my eyes is two-sided.

For one, young black men need to be taught not to resist arrest. If there’s a racist cop out there that wants to kill black men, then in his mind he’s going to be hoping that they either resist arrest or run away. In the case of De’Von Bailey, I really don’t think those cops were racist. However, they were certainly afraid to lose their own lives, and perhaps more intense training needs to be done to prepare officers for these kinds of situations where their own lives are in jeopardy.

I don’t blame my father for thinking the way that he does. He and I have different experiences and different perceptions. But I think in order to solve this epidemic, black people need to learn to let go of the stigma that all cops are trying to kill them. In an ideal world, the ideal cop would be someone that understands the self-sacrifice that comes with the profession. Yet of course, we are all human, and fearing for one’s life is a natural human tendency.

Jared Cole is a member of the Class of 2020.


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  1. Sophie says:

    This article literally gives me hope for the younger generation of people. Being able to think fairly and critically about the current political climate is lacking in nearly every American university and this article shows so much courage and wisdom. Seriously amazing piece of writing!

  2. 2017 says:

    This article paints with such an unbelievably wide brush. You’re using an example of police violence against someone who happened to be armed as justification for the racially motivated killings of unarmed and obviously nonthreatening people of color. Another false equivalency? You calling the officers killing Eric Garner and Mike Brown “foolish” and using the same word to describe unarmed black men reacting to obvious abuse of power in the same way that many of us would. Do you really think that the best way forward is for police violence to continue and POCs to just learn to do whatever racist cops tell them to?? That doesn’t work! People still get killed! Not to mention the injustice of it. It seems like you’re more interested in proving to the world your own supposed clarity of thought than actually thinking through any issues you discuss. Come with an actual thesis next time, or stay away from this topic entirely.

  3. Brown Male says:

    Have recent events made you reevaluate this article? Police officers should be held to a much higher standard than citizens in officer citizen interactions. I hope recent events help you see that police as an institution are flawed and police shootings are a result of inadequate training/ policy/ selectivity for armed personnel. Do better. Take in more experiences than just your parents.

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