You all know the old saying about not judging a person until you have walked in their shoes.
This weekend a horrible tragedy played out in Cleveland, OH. The common thread among the media reports are that two officers from the Cleveland Police Department responded to a call of a young male waiving around a gun. As the officers approach, one tells the young male to raise his hands. Instead, the young male draws the pistol from his waistband at which time the officer fires. The boy was killed.
The gun turned out to be an air-soft (fires plastic BBs) replica of a model 1911 pistol.
Some reports claim that callers mentioned the possibility of the gun being fake, but it is not clear whether this is accurate or if that information was relayed to the responding officers. In the end, if this is indeed the case, it will certainly add more fuel to the angst fire, but it really doesn’t change the situation to any large degree as this information may certainly be taken into account by responding officers as it couldn’t be accepted as 100% reliable either.
Now for the walking in their shoes part…
I was working midnight shift on patrol. Other units responded to a reported shooting, and they put out a look out for a very distinctive vehicle that passed by at the exact time of the shooting. A short time later, I was dispatched to a fight in progress call. As I arrived on scene, I see the vehicle described as being at the scene of the earlier reported shooting. It was in fact the very same vehicle. The vehicle was being chased by several people on foot who were running after it. I told the people chasing the car to stay back; I caught up to the vehicle; and I initiated a stop on the car keeping in mind that it was very likely connected to the reported shooting.
As the vehicle stopped, the passenger immediately jumped out of the vehicle and turned toward me. Light from a streetlight glinted off of what appeared to be a silver, metal object in his hand. I drew my old S&W 4006 out of a Safariland 070 duty holster, and as I type this, I can clearly see the image of my Novak front sight superimposed over the center of his chest.
The object in his hand was a cell phone.
Had he made any move that looked threatening after I saw the light glinting from the object, I would have fired. I have no doubt of this. It all happened in split seconds, but the event plays over and over again in slow motion in my mind whenever I think of it.
In another instance, I almost shot a college student who swept back his jacket to show me that the gun that he was carrying was a toy gun. He saw me, freaked, and turned towards me sweeping back his jacket. In his mind, he needed to show the cop that he didn’t have a real gun. All I saw was a guy spin toward me while sweeping his jacket out of the way and reaching for what appeared to be a pistol in a holster on his belt.
The only reason I didn’t fire was that I saw and recognized the power chord coming out of the butt of the pistol.
Yup. He was carrying the pistol from his video gaming console.
The individuals in the car in the first incident had by pure coincidence driven by the scene of the reported shooting as it occurred. They made the mistake of pulling into a fraternity parking lot to park their car. The members of the fraternity took exception to this and the result was a fight. The two guys jump back into the car (after one of them unleashes a can of pepper spray) and leave the parking lot with the fraternity members chasing them only for me to arrive at the same time. In the second incident, the individual was a college student on the way to a costume party at a bar. We happened to wind up in the same parking lot at the same time, and he freaked thinking the cop saw that he had a “gun”.
Both of these incidents could have easily resulted in “Cop Shoots Teenage Holding a Cell Phone” or “Cop Shoots College Student Armed with Video Game Pistol” headlines.
The decisions in those incidents were made in less than a second each. It turned out that I was right both times. The irony is that I could have been wrong and still been right. I also could have been wrong and ended up dead. That is the pure truth of the matter. Life and death decisions made instantaneously, in real time, and without the benefit of slow motion replay to see if the ref blew the call.