You are a cop, running as hard as you can, chasing an armed, young male suspect. Your weapon is drawn, and your heart is pounding from more than just the running. You have been alerted to the sound of gunfire in the area. You see a gun in the fleeing suspect’s right hand; you are shouting for him to stop and show you his hands. In one fluid motion the suspect turns to face you.
What do you do?
That is the subject of today’s 10 minute episode.
Before continuing, tell yourself what you would have done.
Okay, now continue.
In this case, the officer, Eric Stillman, white, a 6-year police veteran, fatally shot 13-year-old black Adam Toledo with a single bullet. Before becoming a police officer, Stillman joined the U.S. Marines; his service included a deployment to Afghanistan. He remains in the Marine Reserves as a Staff Sergeant. Frame-by-frame video shows that Toledo ditched the gun as he was turning to face Stillman. Stillman, you, had less than a second to decide what to do. Was Toledo’s body obscuring what happened to the gun? Were you, Stillman, remembering your training that said to shoot when faced with an armed suspect who was resisting arrest, and turning to face you?
I’ll never know, but I would likely have shot Toledo. In split second, life or death situations, the only thing you can rely upon is your training. And it was not just my, our, personal safety at stake. Had Toledo succeeded in running away again while armed, whether or not he hit me, us, with a shot, he would have been a clear danger to the suburban Chicago neighborhood we are duty bound to protect.
The key question here is what kind of a police force do we want? We asked the question about what kind of a military we want in a recent episode. Today, we ask the same question about law enforcement.
Many are already condemning the officer’s action. Adeena J. Weiss-Ortiz, the family’s lawyer, said, “Adam, during his last second of life, did not have a gun in his hand.” True, but is she telling the whole truth? No, but as the family lawyer it is her duty to put Adam in the best possible light. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, observing that Toledo had not fired first, said, “Simply put, we failed Adam.” The Mayor was silent about the 769 civilian-on-civilian murders in her city in 2020, up from 495 the year before. The hands up, don’t shoot image portrayed here is intended to play to the emotions of the many who believe the “Hands up, don’t’ shoot,” lie in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, MO.
The mainstream media are picking up on the theme that Toledo was shot while unarmed with his hands in the air. That’s true, and intentionally misleading, working to fuel the anti-cop hatred in general, and to reinforce the false claim that cops are murdering unarmed blacks on a regular basis. At most, 25 unarmed blacks are killed by cops each year, with many of those killings being justified. Intentionally fueling hatred, especially with false information, is a hate crime in and of itself. And spawns more hate crimes for which the entity spreading the false information is culpable. In cases like Daunte Wright, where the killing appears not to have been justified, the officer in question has been arrested and charged with manslaughter.
In general it is likely that police might need to have more thorough and repeated live fire training. Along with increased training about how to defuse situations before either side begins shooting. Law enforcement may also need to look at its hiring and retention practices, seeking to avoid hiring those who might not react well in life and death situations, and weed out those who slipped by during the hiring process. Specifically, it has been widely publicized that Officer Stillman has had three complaints filed against him with the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. What is less well publicized is that two of those complaints were about searches, one Oct. 11, 2018, and another Oct. 28, 2020. The first case was listed as “unfounded,” and the second was closed with “no finding.” A third complaint is pending.
But what about the civilians in police encounters; is there any responsibility there, anything from the civilian’s past that would give us clues about how to alleviate or avoid risky situations in the future? Mr. Toledo was reported missing by his mother, Elizabeth Toledo, on Friday, March 26, three days before the killing. He returned home the following day, but his mother did not call police to report that he had returned. Officers found out he was home only when they called to check on the missing persons report. On March 31, two days after Toledo’s death, detectives again called his mother to say that the description of her son resembled an unidentified person in the morgue. Ms. Toledo then told detectives she hadn’t seen her son since he had left home again, either late on March 27 or early on March 28. She did not report him missing a second time. The media frequently puts her in front of cameras saying, “I just want to know what really happened to my baby. They had a lot of options, but not (sic) kill him. They could have shot him in his legs, his arms, up in the air, I don’t know but not kill my baby,” adding that Adam liked to play with Legos. She does not mention his affinity for guns.
Thirteen-year-old Adam was with a 21-year-old man, Roman Ruben, during the shooting. Roman faces felony charges of unlawful use and reckless discharge of a firearm, child endangerment, and violating probation. At a bond hearing for Roman on April 10, prosecutors said he fired seven or eight shots while standing next to Adam and they both ran when officers arrived. Roman was apprehended, while police went on chasing Adam.
Both police and civilians should be held accountable for their actions; that’s not what is happening today. Police are being held accountable, after the fact, if they had not acted in any way that did not pass the 20-20 hindsight test. Civilians and suspects are given a pass, while often being made into heroes and martyrs, regardless of their criminal history. “Shoot him in the thigh,” and, “He was shot for the crime of being black,” reverberate not only in the media, but in the minds of all law enforcement. Cops, innocent or not, and their families are being harassed in their homes, with some being driven into hiding. Until they are found there by the mob, and driven out of that home as well.
Who would want to be a cop in today’s atmosphere? How many good ones will apply? How many good ones will stay? Today’s anti-cop environment will attract more marginal applicants, while discouraging the good ones, and help to drive the remaining good ones out the door. Can we afford the luxury of venting our rage at perceived injustices, perceived to be injustices because of deliberately false information? All while making it close to impossible for the good cops to put up with the mounting hassles and negative publicity. The less than good ones will just hide behind their badges, waiting for their pensions.
Today’s key point: Today’s growing anti-cop environment will degrade the police forces across the nation, with the greatest negative impact to be felt in the poor, minority neighborhoods; the ones who need the cops, especially the good ones, the most.
I played both cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers as a kid. N. B. I did not say that I played US Military and Indians, where the genocide occurred, I played cowboys and Indians. We did not care who was which; we just chose up sides, and went at it. But you can’t do that anymore because the word Indian, clearly a misnomer, is seen as unacceptable to Native Americans. We take up the cause of the Indigenous Peoples, and ban the term. Fair enough. But is using the phrase cops and robbers becoming similarly unacceptable? Are we choosing up sides, then having at it–but in this case we are not playing? All the data and logic point heavily to supporting the police. Anti-police entities take isolated examples, most of them presented with only part of the facts at hand, and then claim systemic racism and other faults. To our peril.
Where do you stand? What are you going to do? Remember, it does not matter where you stand if you don’t do anything.
As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty. 1 Corinthians 16:14
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.