In the span of less than a week, we’ve had two more instances of police officers unjustifiably pulling the trigger on someone. However, the recent events that have unfolded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Minneapolis, Minnesota have both had new wrinkles that have made them especially powerful. Now, instead of the case being about the shooting of an unarmed black man, we’re faced with the shooting of an armed black man, one of whom was legally exercising his Second Amendment rights, and neither of whom posed a threat to police at the time of the shooting.
In the early morning of July 5, Alton Sterling was shot after police responded to a complaint about an armed man bothering people outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Two police officers tackled and detained Sterling. A bystander’s disturbing video shows Sterling being held prone on the ground when someone yelled that he had a gun. Both officers immediately drew their pistols and shot him several times.
A single day later, police pulled over a car in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a broken taillight. The passenger, Philandro Castile, told the officers that he was legally carrying a concealed firearm. When the officer requested Castile’s ID, the officer shot him, claiming that he thought Castile was reaching for his gun.
Legally, police can resort to deadly force whenever they feel that their lives, or the lives of bystanders, are in danger. However, looking at the video footage and hearing the stories of what happened in the moments leading up to these two shootings, it seems clear that this was not the case.
For example, when Sterling died, he was already under control of the two responding officers. They had tackled him to the ground. One was sitting, straddled on Sterling’s stomach, rendering him immobile. The other pinned Sterling’s left arm to the ground. At no point did Sterling resist the officers or struggle against them. A gun was found in the cargo pocket of his pants on his right side, which he had no way of accessing at any time during the altercation due to the officer straddling his torso. Nevertheless, once they discovered the gun in his pocket, it took the officers only a hair over five seconds to start shooting at Sterling.
In the case of Mr. Castile, he even did everything that he was supposed to do after being approached by police while legally carrying a concealed weapon, but that did not stop the officer from opening fire.
The overreaching by police in each of these two situations is frightening. Their immediate and seemingly unflinching choice to jump straight to deadly force in the middle of a situation they already had control over makes most people wonder.
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