They did it again. For the second time in less than two weeks, police have killed an innocent black man when they showed up for a call of shots fired and just assumed the black guy with the gun must be the one doing the shooting. The more recent incident occurred at a shopping mall in Alabama. Two other people suffered gunshot wounds.
It seems obvious that, in any situation where someone is shooting a gun unexpectedly, the scene will be chaotic. But part of the job of police officers is to restore calm, and they should only shoot at anyone to prevent imminent harm to themselves or to someone else.
In the earlier instance, the man who died was working at the venue where the shooting occurred and allegedly wearing a cap that said, “Security,” on it when the police shot him. They found him with another man on the floor and his knee in the other man’s back, holding a gun on him. It seems really obvious that such a situation would lead someone who came upon it to conclude that the man holding the other man down was doing a job. He did not flee when the police approached. But he was a black man with a gun, so, in the minds of too many cops, as in the minds of too many people in general, he must have been the culprit, so they shot him and killed him.
The more recent event is more ambiguous. The police now say that they think two persons were involved in the shooting at the Alabama mall, and both are still at large. They say that the dead man got shot this time because he was fleeing and armed. But they have not claimed that he was shooting at anyone or an immediate threat in any other sense.
Police officers have to make quick decisions, which is precisely why their deep seated beliefs about the world and how it works have such a large impact on the outcomes in situations like this, and why common assumptions about the supposed criminality of black people too often results in black people, especially black men, getting shot and killed.
Racism is deadly and it is still far too common in our society.