Law enforcement has become more difficult and dangerous than ever before. On every call police officers respond to they can be confronted by armed subjects, thereby creating deadly force situations. 2016 was one of the deadliest years law enforcement has experienced in almost a decade. There is not a police officer that I’ve ever known that doesn’t dread the prospect of having to use deadly force in a situation that protects the lives of citizens, other officers, or themselves. We all do this job to aid those who call us in their time of need without question of who they are, what they look like, or their economic status.
On February 9th, 2017, Portland Police officers responded to a call for help from a citizen who had been robbed and held hostage at gunpoint for 30 minutes while the victim pled for his life. As events unfolded, it became apparent the suspect was engaged in an active crime spree including armed robbery, an attempted car prowl, and attempted burglary. All of which led the officers to a confrontation with the subject who fit the exact description of the armed suspect in all of these incidents. During the confrontation officers attempted to deescalate the situation using clear and simple voice commands while attempting to take the suspect into custody. The suspect, however, refused to comply with multiple instructions not to reach into the waistband of his pants where officers believed he had a handgun. The suspect then suddenly sat up and immediately reached for his waistband resulting in the use of deadly force, fatally wounding the suspect.
Almost immediately the dynamics of a white police officer shooting a young African American man spiraled out of control. During the first few hours of the incident some media outlets were rushing to judgment and using the situation fueled by false information and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve their agenda. Recklessly disregarding to seek true and actual facts before publishing a detailed account of a tragic and serious incident was irresponsible. Within 24 hours of the incident, some local community organizations further inflamed a tragic situation by prejudging the incident without having the facts. Mayor Wheeler promised a full and thorough investigation transparent for all to see. However, he neglected to mention that in this country individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, which includes police officers. Ironically it’s clear that the press and special interest groups didn’t bother reading the results of the transparent investigation.
Media stories and others with self-serving agendas continued to feed a growing bias and misconception of the events that took place on February 9th. After the grand jury’s decision that cleared the officer of any wrong doing, and the evidence was made public for all to see, the media still twisted and edited statements in a self-serving effort to sell their story. This is a tragic situation, a loss of life, every life, is a tragedy. A young man made decisions that no one his age should have to make. He was failed by a system that promises help and guidance during tough times but instead fell through the giant crevice of this system.
Failure of this system results in police confrontations being the last rung on this ladder. Law enforcement in this country alone cannot fix generations of inequity, prejudice and racial tensions. We all have a responsibility to play a part in the process. That includes the media and how they report the news with an unbiased eye on the facts and a patient and diligent effort to gather the truth instead of a self-serving agenda to sell a story.