Charles E. Richardson

False equivalency points fingers in the wrong directions

The continuing saga of “police officer shoots unarmed black man” brings out the usual responses on social media and letters to the editor when the inevitable protests follow. I’ve seen it hundreds of times and the chatter starts again with each incident. It goes something like this:

“Why aren’t they protesting black-on-black crime?” or “Why aren’t they saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ in Chicago and Detroit?” You’ve probably read much of the same. You may have even been guilty of saying or thinking the same. I guess you could call those honest queries, if you equate an officer, operating under cover of law, with a common criminal. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of the thousands of officers who go about their daily duties serving and protecting their communities.

Criminals, no matter the color, do what criminals do. They steal and rob, murder, sell drugs and create general mayhem. Even with all of the — for lack of a better term — mishaps, the community doesn’t believe, I would hope, that the majority of law enforcement officers patrolling their streets are criminals out to get them. However, a criminal is a criminal is a criminal.

Does anyone believe the criminal element in any community is concerned about protests? Churches can march, police can have community patrols, Black Lives Matter can hold rallies, but it’s largely the law-abiding citizens who come out for those events. Criminals, gang bangers and the like, stay as far away as they can from churches and places law enforcement frequent. Sort of an oil and water thing. When people protest, they do so where they think they can effect change.

The comments, however, give an indication of what some in the white community believe about blacks. That opinion could be summed up in one of the latest officer killings of an unarmed man caught on video. A Tulsa, Oklahoma, officer observing the scene from a helicopter, hundreds of feet up in the air, said, “Looks like a bad dude, too,” moments before his colleague, Officer Betty Shelby, shoots and kills 40-year-old Terence Crutcher.

I can’t climb into Shelby’s head and rumble through the drawers of her psyche to see what she thought she saw. Crutcher was three-quarters of an SUV’s length from her and there were three other officers beside her. We do know Crutcher was unarmed. He had his hands up throughout most of the encounter. We do know there was no weapon in the vehicle. We don’t know whether she could see if the driver’s side window where he was standing was up or not, but it was up. Now she faces felony manslaughter in the first degree.

The next tired comment will be, “All he had to do was follow the officer’s commands.” Certainly, that could be the case, the video didn’t pick up the audio of what those commands might have been. But what was clear is that Crutcher wasn’t moving toward the officers.

Following commands didn’t prevent Charles Kinsey from getting shot by police in North Miami even though he was lying on his back with his arms outstretched over his head as he tried to calm his autistic patient sitting near his feet playing with a toy truck.

The first version of the story from the police union president said the officer was aiming for the patient who, by the way, posed no threat. But in the officer’s mind he may have saw a person, loading a gun, getting ready to shoot the man lying on his back, at least that’s the theory the union president foisted, So the officer shoots the wrong guy — the black guy. Following commands also didn’t save 32-year-old Philando Castile’s life in July. He told the officer he had a permit to carry a weapon and was shot and killed anyway.

Here’s one of the most damning things about this shooting and others. In the Tulsa shooting, video shows the officers backing away from the victim. Not one offered aid. In the Castile killing, they comforted the officer who did the shooting, but Castile lay bleeding out until paramedics arrived 10 minutes later. And Kinsey, who they said wasn’t the target, though wounded, was rolled on his stomach and handcuffed.

While you may still want to throw out those tripe lines about protesters, just remember, we hold law enforcement personnel to higher standards than criminals and that’s how it should be.