July 21, 2016 by David K. Sutton
Black Therapist Shot By Miami Police While Lying On Ground, Hands In The Air
On Monday there was another instance of a police officer shooting an unarmed black man, this time in Miami.
The video, reportedly taken with a cellphone, was filmed Monday and published online Wednesday, bringing swift condemnations. The man at the center of it is Charles Kinsey, who gave an interview to local TV news Channel 7 WSVN from his hospital bed in which he described telling officers — who were responding to a call of an armed man threatening suicide — that he was attempting to bring a man with autism back to the assisted living facility from which he had wandered.
I only have the information being reported to go on, but even if new information comes to light in this particular event, it doesn’t change what I have to say. Because when we put this event into the context of other recent officer-involved shootings, it does offer us a perspective we may not have before considered.
During the incident, the patient had a toy truck; Kinsey says he had been worried for the patient’s safety and was surprised that he himself was shot — he tells Channel 7 that he had his hands up as high as he could get them, and had obeyed an order to lie on the ground. In a segment of the encounter with police that apparently wasn’t captured on video, Kinsey was shot in the leg.
In this case, there is an autistic man who is unable to comply with police orders, possibly even contributing to the intensity of the situation. There are those who would have us believe that an adult not complying with the police can ultimately get what they deserve if they continue with their noncompliance, especially if the altercation becomes physical. But if it’s not immediately clear to officers that a person has a mental challenge, and then you wrap that in the context of other officer-involved shootings, does this not give you pause when you think about how quickly some of these events escalate to the use of deadly force?
Now here’s the part where I say that I understand police have a dangerous and difficult job. Of course they do. But that statement of fact does not excuse officers, and it certainly should not absolve them from accountability. I don’t think police officers as a group have a special issue of bias that doesn’t exist in other groups. What I believe is human beings have an issue of bias, but in the case of police there is an institution that often chooses to shield that bias. It’s an in-group favoritism, a “brotherhood” so to speak, and its perfectly understandable, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Police should be held to a higher standard, and bias shouldn’t be shielded by an institution that is tasked with protecting and serving the community. Bias should be recognized so that it can be minimized. But this distinction eludes those afflicted by in-group bias.
It is this differential of perception that gave rise to the dismissive “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” taglines in response to “Black Lives Matter.” Of course the lives of police officers matter. Of course all lives matter. And had those taglines appeared organically, not as a response to “Black Lives Matter,” they would not be derisive. But that’s not how it happened. And so when people chant “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter,” they do so with an antipathy to the experience of black people that proves the point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Because the point of “Black Lives Matter” is to say that while we might offer innocuous platitudes in support of all lives, we have an ugly racist history, along with a mountain of evidence showing us that some lives really do matter less, often at the hand of institutionalized discrimination. Or to put it more simply, the point of “Black Lives Matter” is to say that black lives matter TOO.
When police officers are killed by criminals, there is no institutional force shielding these criminal acts. So while it is perfectly legitimate to protest against violence and against police officers getting killed in the line of duty, that protest shouldn’t be done in-part to spite the experience of an out-group you do not identify with. Dismissing their grievance doesn’t make it go away.
But getting back to this specific event, when considering the non-compliance of the autistic adult, and all the questions it raises with regard to use of deadly force, questions we might not have previously considered, it turns out it wasn’t even the autistic adult who got shot. Yet again, the person who was shot by police was an unarmed black man, complying with police orders, hands raised high.
UPDATE – 7/22/2016
The police union is now saying the officer actually intended to shoot the autistic man. If that is true, it really speaks to what I said above. Because the autistic man was not able to comply with police, and so the intention of this officer was to shoot him because the officer believed he posed a threat. A threat to who? He was sitting on the ground. He didn’t have a gun. If we say police have a complex job, which they do, we also should admit that our analysis of these situations needs to match that complexity. While it is not my desire to condemn police officers for mistakes, I’m still troubled by the all-too-often use of lethal force to “resolve” situations. Is there a line a police officer can cross when a mistake turns into a crime? Fortunately in this case nobody died.