I found out about a couple things in quick succession this week.
The first was the report of the governors task force that was formed in response to the Charlottesville so called “Unite the Right” rally, where Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crown of clashing protesters and counter-protesters. The second was the acquittal of Philip Brailsford, an Arizona police officer who escaped charges of second degree murder for shooting and killing Daniel Shaver.
The footage of Shaver’s death taken from Brailsford’s body cam is difficult to watch. Brailsford (and other officers) were responding to a call about a suspect with a rifle in a hotel room. Gun pointed, Brailsford (and other officers) shouted a series of orders contradicting and confusing orders which Shaver attempted to cooperate with. Inebriated, terrified, and begging for his life, Shaver made the fatal error of reaching back to pull up his pants. This movement was greeted by burst of gunfire which ended his life. Shaver was unarmed – the rifle, which was not on Shaver’s person when he was killed, turned out to be a pellet gun used for his pest control business.
Why did he reach to toward his waistline? His pants had started to come off while he was attempting to comply with Brailsford’s order to crawl towards him with his legs crossed.
If you’re near a carpet try this out: get on your hands and knees, cross your legs, and try to crawl ten feet forward. It’s not the easiest experience sober in the safety and comfort of your own home, so I can only imagine how it would feel drunk, scared, and sobbing with a loaded gun in my face.
Now, it is always worth repeating that police officers have one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in our society. I have friends who are police officers. They cannot know what is going to happen when responding to a call. No one is saying high pressure situations are easy. It is a job I would never want and for most men and women in the profession I have nothing but profound respect.
None of that excuses what was recorded by that body camera.
Police training and instincts are meant to be geared to toward reading, responding to and deescalating a variety of situation. How was that demonstrated here?
I’ll pause here so we can turn to the Charlottesville story. Governor Terry McAuliffe created a task force to review the violence caused by the white supremacists and their belligerent adversaries. According to the report, State Police “identified the potential for violence” and alerted Charlottesville officials “in order to enhance public safety preparations” The report goes on to describe concern by top state officials over Charlottetown leadership’s failure to take preventative measures.
Virginia Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Brian J. Moran insisted that the report was not made to “second guess decision makers or assign blame,” but during a Nov. 30 panel on free speech and public safety Moran said that state officials possessed reliable information that the rally would turn violent. This information was shared with local officials well before the Aug. 12 event.
Charlottesville leadership was given clear evidence from top authorities that violence was more than likely at the rally. The State of Virginia made every resource available to the town of Charlottesville. The Governor of Alabama along with a number of state officials urged the town to make a series of possible preparations.
They did not.
The common thread connecting these two stories is that the incompetence of those in their positions lead to an innocent person’s death.
I have a little more sympathy for the Charlottesville officials, whom I have to imagine didn’t ever anticipate having to prepare for a violent neo-Nazi/white-supremacist statue removal protest. However, when top officials whose job it is to prepare for violence tell you violence is on the way, you should listen to them.
For Officer Philip Brailsford – and the jury which acquitted him after six whole hours of deliberation, I have nothing but the deepest contempt.
There is a common saying, for evil to prevail all that is required is the apathy of good people. Our societies aren’t often threatened by huge existential crises. War and famine have thankfully not fallen on North America in quite a while. In peace time, in times of plenty, what tears at the fabric of our society is the actions of everyday people. Our decisions of how we treat each other, how we go about our work, or how we approach situation affects the world around us in ways we can hardly be aware of. Every once in a while those decisions are thrust into the limelight.
I didn’t hold the gun that killed Daniel Shaver and left his family without a husband and father. I didn’t sit on the jury that acquitted him. I didn’t take part in preparing Charlottesville for a violent protest. Nor did you.
My point in writing this is to say that while there is nothing we can do about the past, there is always something to be done about the future. Remember that everything you do and everything you don’t do has a price.