News You Can Use: How to Avoid Getting Shot by the Police

Break out your pencils, gentle readers, it’s time for a pop quiz. What do Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald, and Paul O’Neal have in common? Yes, they are all black men who died under controversial circumstances at the hands of the police, but you get only partial credit if your answer was limited to those facts. To get full credit, you must have included the point that they all would be alive today had they merely followed the lawful directions of the police officers who were trying to arrest or detain them.

Recall that Eric Garner died of a heart attack after resisting NYPD officers’ attempts to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island; Freddie Gray died in police custody after attempting to flee from officers in Baltimore; Walter Scott was shot after running away from a traffic stop in North Charleston; Laquan McDonald was shot by one of several Chicago police officers trying to detain him over a car break-in; and Paul O’Neal was shot by a Chicago police officer while running from a stolen car, one that he had only moments before rammed into a police cruiser.

To this list we now add Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott, who last week were shot and killed by police officers in Tulsa and Charlotte, respectively. And already I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the No Justice, No Peace Hallelujah Chorus. “But Dunphy,” they cry, “you don’t get the death penalty for not listening to the police!”

Which is true, as far as it goes. But these men were not shot because they failed to follow police commands. They were shot because the police officers perceived an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury if they did not use deadly force to stop it. Whether or not those perceptions were reasonable under the law remains to be seen. To that point, Betty Shelby, the Tulsa police officer who shot Crutcher, has already been charged with manslaughter.

As for Keith Scott, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief Kerr Putney remains adamant that Scott was holding a handgun when he was shot. A video of the incident shot by Scott’s wife, released by NBC on Friday, strongly suggests Scott was indeed armed with a handgun as he exited his car. Officers can be heard repeatedly ordering him to drop the gun. Indeed, just before the fatal shots were fired, Scott’s wife can be heard saying, “Keith, don’t you do it!” It’s unclear in the video what the “it” was, but the woman’s reaction reveals her concern that Scott was placing himself in danger. He was.

On Saturday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police released videos captured by a dashboard camera and an officer’s body-worn camera, but neither of them shows clearly what Scott did in the moments before he was shot. What can be seen clearly from the dashboard camera is that Scott exited his car and was backing away from it with his hands at his sides when four shots were fired in about one second. What, if anything, he had in his hands cannot be seen in either police video.