Following another fatal police shooting of an African American in Fort Worth, Texas, many are calling for unity — as in a unified policy to help stop unprovoked attacks on people of color.
The shootings have sparked demonstrations and outrage across the country.
“Police shooting policies need to change — not only for minorities and for shootings inside a home — but for everyone,” said well-known forensic psychiatrist and expert witness Dr. Carole Lieberman. “It is shocking that police still aren’t trained more effectively to shoot to disarm — not to kill.”
In Fort Worth, Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman, was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she heard commotion outside of her home at about 2:30 a.m. A neighbor had called a non-emergency police line asking that authorities perform a welfare check on the Jefferson home because the door was ajar.
As Jefferson peeked outside her window, Officer Aaron Dean, who is white, yelled, “Let me see your hands!” Instantly, Dean fired a shot through the window that struck and killed Jefferson.
The incident occurred within a week of the conviction of Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger, who unlawfully entered the home of 28-year-old Botham Jean. Guyger claimed it was late, she was tired, and she thought she’d entered her own apartment. She said she thought Botham was an intruder so she shot and killed him.
“[Officers’] go-to automatic responses seems to be shoot to kill — especially when it concerns minorities,” Lieberman said. “This is not only tragic for Blacks and other minorities, but it is dangerous to the police themselves to cause these populations to be frightened and then act in a self-protective way which gets misinterpreted by the police. And to shoot anyone in their own home should carry a severe penalty.”
Retired Police Capt. Thomas Shull, who served 33 years in law enforcement, said an agency’s shooting policy is developed to provide guidance as to when the use of deadly force is permitted.
The requirements have been set by the courts in ever-evolving rulings, Shull said. For example, in the 1960s, the courts used to allow the shooting of any fleeing felon. The Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Gardner and other case decisions changed that.
“You can now only shoot a fleeing felon if the crime is a violent felony, and the escape of the felon is likely to result in bodily injury or death,” Shull said. “Standards and best practices have been developed for the escalating use of force, and evolve as new court rulings or technology comes along — for example, tasers and body cameras.”
Shull said the policies state “when deadly force is permitted.”
“It does not matter race, gender, or age. If there is an immediate and imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another, then deadly force can be used,” Shull said.
He added that law enforcement is a very dynamic occupation, and unfortunately a deadly encounter can happen without notice.
“The officer, through training and policy guidance, must make an instant decision if there is a deadly threat or not, and respond,” Shull said. “Often, there is little information available other than what the officer sees in that moment.”
For Wayne Reid, Shull’s explanation rings hollow.
Reid’s brother, Franklyn, was shot in the back in broad daylight in full view of many passerby in New Milford, Connecticut, a predominately white community. As a result, some departments have modified their policies regarding the use of deadly force, Reid said.
“But 21 years later, communities across our wonderful country are still struggling with police-involved incidents,” he said. “The emotional pain the families experience is tragic.
“Most of the incidents are cyclical and I believe fear towards minorities and law enforcement is the great barrier why the cycle repeats, endlessly,” Reid said. “We must eradicate that barrier. Law enforcement must act swiftly and courageously to condemn wrong, as they did in Texas.”
In a forthcoming book, “Death by Cop: A Call for Unity,” Connecticut State Attorney John Connelly, who charged Officer Scott Smith with the murder of Franklyn Reid, said Smith acted inappropriately in shooting Reid.
“Officer Smith let his emotions take over, and because of that, Franklyn Reid is dead,” Connelly wrote. “It’s not pleasant, it’s not nice. The law applies equally to all of us. The law applies to police officers as it applies to engineers, mechanics, doctors and lawyers.
“No man in this country is above the law,” he wrote. “Just because you put a badge on doesn’t mean you are above the law. When we give you that gun, when we give you that badge, you also must accept responsibility. Officer Smith is not above the law. No police officer is above the law.”