By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Just last Sunday night, Sacramento police officers shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark, a father of two who was unarmed, in the backyard of his grandparents’ home.
According to a police department statement: Prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands. At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. After an exhaustive search, scene investigators did not locate any firearms. The only item found near the suspect was a cell phone.”
Deplorably, the incidences of fatal police involved shootings continue to happen. This begs the rather obvious question: What factors account for these alarming incidences of fatal police shootings of minorities?
In truth, there are any number of possible factors that play a role in these tragic occurrences. But clearly, one factor that is either high, or tops that list, is adequate training. In 2016, in the wake of the shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney (who is Black) provided is his own sage, nuanced thoughts about the use of deadly force by police officers
Chief Putney went on record as having said:
“Lethal force should only be used by police in absolute emergencies and cannot be justified — morally, legally, or otherwise — in situations where an officer is not in truly imminent danger.” “Some officers are gonna think, ‘If my life is in danger, I can use lethal force.’ But the law does not quite say it that way,” he said. “It has to be an imminent threat — and ‘imminent threat’ does not mean you’re anticipating what might happen. It must be happening now, as in, ‘It’s about to go down, so I must react.’ The way we teach our people, you must truly be in a position to lose your life — not, you’re afraid it could happen.”
Admittedly, Chief Putney’s explanation was not an epiphany to me being a former police officer. However, the thought-process of most officers regarding the proper use of deadly force seems rather different in the real world.
As we have seen on countless occasions that involve loss of life by law enforcement agents, the mere utterance that the officer ‘feared for his life,’ generally serves to exonerate that officer from criminal prosecution in most of cases.
During that same interview, Chief Putney presented some additional insights on this subject:
“… Fear plays a critical role in determining how these kinds of confrontations unfold. In ambiguous, fast-moving situations “You have this natural distrust that has accumulated, and it’s all brought to bear at that critical instant. … You layer on what’s going on nationally, and everything else, and people start expecting something volatile to happen.”
It remains to be seen whether the white police officers who killed Mr. Clark will be formally charged in the shooting. After all, the officers in question allege they thought the suspect had a weapon and was justified in him 20 times.
With, the importance of properly training police officers in what constitutes an imminent, deadly threat cannot be overstated. As Chief Putney so succinctly stated: “Imminent threat’ does not mean you’re anticipating what might happen. It has to be happening now.”
Hence, police officers must be better trained in realizing the difference.