I have witnessed two black men die on camera after police officers fired multiple bullets into their bodies. One man, Alton Sterling was being held down by two police officers when they shot him multiple times. One officer yelled “get down!” after the man was shot while he was already being held down. After Sterling was shot multiple times, one of the officers took something out of the dying man’s pocket, it could have been a gun, but if the gun was still in his pocket that meant it wasn’t in his hand threatening the officers. One view of the video shows Sterling’s right hand up by his chest right before he was first shot. Sterling’s left arm was held down by the weight of the officer sitting on top of his body. From my view Sterling was executed in the streets by those we call in times of crisis, but the response to our call should not be the crisis.
The second on-camera death of a black man occurred in Minnesota and is even more frightening because it involves something many of us have been though, a traffic stop. Philando Castile was driving a vehicle that was pulled over by police for a broken tail light. The vehicle was also occupied by his girlfriend and her young daughter who was in the back seat of the vehicle. From all accounts Castile was an upstanding citizen, a supervisor at a school cafeteria and had a license to carry permit. Castile's girlfriend streamed the aftermath of Castle being shot live on facebook® and he literally died before our eyes. Castile’s girlfriend recapped the actions leading up to the shooting and from her account her informed the officer he had a gun and right to carry permit and was reaching for his license. Keep in mind that Castile was involved in a traffic stop for a broken tail light and ended up dead. It reminds us how something that seems so mundane can lead to you losing your life.
I recall a traffic stop in my past when after I was driving with my family in my hometown. I had the cruise control of my SUV set at the posted speed limit. My vehicle had no mechanical or safety defect that would warrant a traffic stop by the police, yet that night after leaving a Walmart and driving to my relatives’ home the road lit up behind me as a police cruiser’s lights were activated. I slowed and pulled my vehicle over to the shoulder of the highway. The police officer approached the driver’s side of my vehicle. I asked the officer what was the problem.
I was told that he got a call on his cell phone that a vehicle was driving slowing on the highway. I informed the officer that I was using my cruise control that was set at the posted speed limit. The officer shined his flashlight in the face of my, my wife and son who was sitting in the back seat. He shined his flashlight beam on the vehicle’s registration sticker on the windshield. I quite sure the officer ran my license tag number before he stopped me. After failing the find any legitimate reason to hold me, the officer’s voice became shaky and he praised my safe driving and said he wished everyone on the road drove as safely as I did. Now, I realize how dangerous that apparently mundane traffic stop really was since it never should have happened in the first place. If there had been any minor issue to give a reason for the officer to cite some potential violation of the law it could have been a reason for a potential escalation of tension, that as we have seen over the years, could lead to death. When the wrong cop shows up nothing else matters. Your social status, wealth, education or profession matter little when you are engaged with someone frightened, but has the authority and means to end your life in an instant. Everyone this happens to is not black, 26-year-old Daniel Shaver from Granbury, Texas begged an Arizona police office not to shoot him, before the officer shot him 5 times with his AR-15 rifle. Shaver was White and unarmed. Shaver was killed in March of 2016.
We have entered a very dangerous period where an attitude of fear and aggressive reaction seem to be quite prevalent in law enforcement. If some police officers can’t deal with other individuals as fellow citizens, human beings and mostly rational people in mundane situations like a traffic stop, then they need to find another profession, stop killing us and staining the name of real police officers doing things the right way.