It’s time to Break It Down!
Another week has commenced, and it is tempting to elevate for review and discourse the next African American male killed by a police officer, Mr. Freddy Gray, of Baltimore, Maryland. B’more, as Baltimore is affectionately known, has often been cited as a place where relations between police and poor sections of the black community go awry. That appears to have happened in the case of Mr. Gray.
In an encounter that is being investigated by local, state, and federal authorities, many questions remain. In what local law enforcement officials insist was a police stop that involved no force by police officers, Mr. Gray was found to have a nearly severed spine, and died one week after being taken into custody.
Temptation notwithstanding, I’m not going to sift through the details of that case, as we know them, for this week’s post. Instead, I will highlight an instance in which an intrepid police officer, despite being confronted by a suspect whom the officer ordered to stand down on a number of occasions, chose not to use deadly force. In fact, the suspect was not tased, not beaten, or shot to death.
Those circumstances alone make this situation stand out among the almost weekly procession of instances in which it seems another police officer (in fear of his life) shoots another black man, more often than not of late, unarmed. But for perspective, add to the amazing confluence of unlikely circumstances, the suspect had been accused of killing his best friend and his fiancée. In addition, the officer, Jesse Kidder, was a rookie with the New Richmond, Ohio Police Department.
There is little reason to doubt this man posed a danger to people in general, and at the time of this encounter, to the Officer Kidder. Yet, instead of recapping the details of yet another tragedy, the Ohio cop is being praised as a hero for not shooting Michael Wilcox, a 27-year-old man who was apparently attempting to commit what is known in the vernacular as suicide by cop.
The entire incident was caught on Officer Kidder’s Body Camera, and shows that Mr. Wilcox repeatedly charged the officer and threatened to shoot the officer, if he didn’t shoot him. He even reached into his pocket as if to retrieve a weapon. As reported by MSNBC, the exchange below can be heard on the audio accompanying the Body Camera video feed:
“Shoot me or I’ll shoot you!” (Wilcox)
“No man, I’m not going to do it!” (Kidder)
Officer Kidder tripped while back-pedaling, but used evasive measures to avoid Wilcox. Given the information available to the officer, including the details previously referenced above, and the fact that the dispatcher advised him Wilcox had a weapon, either on him, or in his car, and was fleeing another law enforcement agency, he could have shot and killed Mr. Wilcox and in all likelihood, been deemed justified by every authority who would have been called upon to review the details of the encounter. Randy Harvey, New Richmond Police Chief, essentially said as much:
“For him to make the judgment call that he did shows great restraint and maturity. This video footage, it eliminated all doubt that this officer would have been justified if in fact it came to a shooting.”
Despite those facts on the ground, according to ABC News, Officer Kidder persuaded Wilcox to lie down on the ground and surrender. Prior to joining the police force on April 16, 2014, Officer Kidder was a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, and won a Purple Heart. The video of the officer’s actions, understandably, has gone viral. In response to the many laudatory comments about his actions, Officer Kidder had this to say:
“Law enforcement officers all across the nation have to deal with split-second decisions that mean life or death. I wanted to be absolutely sure before I used deadly force.”
Mr. Wilcox has been charged with fatally shooting his 25-year-old girlfriend, Courtney Fowler. He is also a person of interest in a Kentucky slaying. He is being held in the Brown County Jail on $2 million bond.
Officer Kidder said a relative gave him the body camera following the deadly officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Missouri. Chief Harvey is seeking funding to purchase more cameras.
It may have occurred to you, this incident ended in stark contrast to so many others in the past year, even in the past weeks. Unlike in Ferguson Missouri, New York City, Cleveland, Ohio, North Charleston, South Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland, the suspect survived. And the suspect survived, even though:
- He was known to have killed (twice)
- He was deemed to be armed
- He charged the police officer
- He disobeyed commands to stop
- He threatened the officer
- He never retreated
- The officer was in continuous retreat
Despite a litany of aggravating circumstances, Officer Kidder has been deemed a hero, and much more importantly, Mr. Wilcox is alive. I wrote this post, not to critique the actions of the officers involved in the recent incidents in the aforementioned localities, but rather to underscore the one central point I always try to make in discussions about matters such as this. “Officers almost always have options other than ending a suspect’s life!” No encounter is apt to make that point more compellingly than this one (fortuitously on video).
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the “ginormous” elephant in the room. While I do not know Officer Kidder, and would never deign to question the personal character of a Purple Heart recipient, I do know the one thing in this discussion that is not like all the other things. Michael Wilcox, the suspect in this incident, is a white man…who is alive today after a recorded encounter with a police officer that few if any black men would have survived. There, I said it…or at least, I wrote it.
I reiterate this is not a statement about what Officer Kidder would have done, had Mr. Wilcox been black, though that may be a fair point for consideration. Rather, it is a point blank statement of the inescapable: White men are afforded greater latitude than black men when they are involved in encounters with police officers.
That is a problem on many levels. It is a reflection of flawed public policy, an indication of a tacit distinction in the valuation of human capital, and an undeniable example of inequitable treatment of individuals due to race. All three of these points are incongruent with the “Exceptional” society we deem ourselves to be. Please join me in taking the requisite actions to create A More Perfect Union, as heralded in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, and in President Obama’s 2008 Speech using the same title. As we move forward to that end, let this encounter remind us that for all the events such as those for which Ferguson and North Charleston have been recently highlighted, they do not have to end the way they did, because due to the events in New Richmond, we are aware of…”Dangerous Encounters With Police: The Flip Side!”
I’m done; holla back!
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