By Ken Gulley
April 12, 2021
While the trial of former Minneapolis police officers continues to captivate the state of Minnesota and the entire United States, new police shooting in the area of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, has reignited outrage against the police. The community dealt with rioting and looting for what they feel is another instance of police targeting of black men in America.
Fortunately, the facts and circumstances of this specific shooting do not corroborate the conspiracy against the black community. Unfortunately, we know facts have a tendency to give way to emotions. This incident in particular underscore the need better police training in the wake of what appears to be a tragic and fatal mistake.
Let’s start with the rumor. Early reports suggest that Mr. Wright was stopped for a simple equipment violation: obstruction in the windshield made by air fresheners. A simple traffic equipment violation, this small issue was not the reason for the shooting.
Information and facts that I’ve seen lead me to believe that Mr. Wright was stopped under the pretext of an equipment issue in order to confirm and arrest him for an outstanding warrant. Wether the stop was a pretext for the warrant inquiry or not is unimportant.
This is speculative, yes, but it doesn’t change the particulars of the subsequent event.
Mr. Wright was then asked to exit the vehicle to be handcuffed. During handcuffing, he was stood beside the open front door of his car by a larger male police officer.
Upon discovering that he was being placed under arrest, Mr. Wright asked to some degree what the reasoning for the handcuffs were. During this part of the encounter, Mr. Wright turned toward the officer and began to resist passively. A warning comes from the male officer followed by two advisements of his outstanding warrant by the same officers and the shooting officer (female).
After a brief hesitation, Mr. Wright begins to actively resist and struggles with the male officer. Mr. Wright actively turned and attempted to break the officer’s grasp and enter into the vehicle. The female officer (and shooter) warns Mr. Wright that she will Tase him. We can see immediately that the female officer draws her firearm instead of her Taser (which is often yellow).
Believing she has her Taser, she again issues a warning that Mr. Wright’s actions will constitute tasing. The female officer then shouts “Taser, taser, taser” (a customary advisement to assisting officers of the deployment of said electronic weapon).
The female officer then squeezes the trigger as Mr. Wright is fully inside of his vehicle. Upon hearing the sound of gunfire (a single shot), the female officer recoils after realizing her awful mistake and yells to her fellow officers that she “shot him.” Her exclamation and reaction notes particularly clear that this was not her intention.
The vehicle slowly drives away before crashing nearby. Mr. Wright succumbed to his injuries.
Mr. Wright’s death, like almost all police involved shooting deaths, is tragic. This particular incident is especially disheartening given how avoidable it all was, for two reasons;
1. Mr. Wright’s resistance and lack of compliance created a scenario that resulted in his own tragedy.
2. The officers’ lack of training and skills.
Let’s start with where responsibility ultimately lies. In order for police officers to be effective in enforcing and carrying out good police work, there needs to be some sort of commitment for the public to understanding the authority and trust given to them as civil servants.
Don’t get me wrong, with the decade of anti-police rhetoric and media portrayal of nefariousness among the ranks, there is a degree of expectation that police officers themselves have about how things may easily escalate.
I know officers in my own department and community who look the other-way before they decide to pull anyone over anyone who belongs to the black community. This is true and sad.
The black community has had reason to dislike the police. Thankfully most of the reasonings given are long past todays world. Unfortunately, those bad feelings have persisted to today where they are largely untrue. Statistics, facts, and case-by-case circumstances do not support a conspiracy by police departments to lock up black men on the sole basis of their skin color. Rather, statistics show that there is a strong basis for the propensity of that community to be involved the lion’s share of violent crime.
Grossly enough, power hungry politicians with bent political narratives and divisive goals are bolstered by the media that fuels fear amongst the black community.
We have now reached the point where these incidents create their own self-fulfilling prophecy that sounds a lot like this:
“ I will voice my displeasure because I feel I was pulled over for prejudice.”
“I was pulled over because I am black.”
“I will rouse the officer and escalate the situation thus proving my fears.”
“I will not comply because I fear for my life.”
“I will resist because I feel this is unjustified.”
“I will induce violence by police in response to resistance but take no responsibility for the incitement.”
The final step of these self-fulfilled prophecies for this community goes on to prove false narrative. Their initial understanding of this false narrative suggested almost all cases of black police encounters consist of unwarranted police brutality when in fact such cases are extremely rare. Ironically, while fear of police is customarily explained as a reason minorities tend to resist, I disagree. I believe hate and disrespect is more so the foundational cause of resistance in most instances for if they actually believed they’d be killed every time they encountered the police, it would be reasonable for them to give police less of a reason to act violently, not more justification.
This is why even entire political ideologies are grossly inaccurate concerning the actual number of cases of “unarmed police killings of black men.” Over half of Liberals surveyed believed 1,000 unarmed black men were killed by police in 2019 when the actual number is less than 20. Furthermore, of those 20 killed, the word “unarmed” is grossly misused (whereas some instances included cars as weapons, etc).
The vast majority of all disagreeable police encounters should result in something no-less than this without resistance:
“I was pulled over for a moving/equipment violation that I disagree with.”
“I was cited/arrested for said violation.”
“I will have my day in court & if necessary sue for the violation of my Constitutional rights.”
Ill take my day in court over the possibility of death any day.
Now I also hear what the layman is also saying loud and clear.
“A police officer that doesn’t know their handgun from their Taser should not be on the street.” I might even agree with you. In fact, plainly, I do!
Now, without offering up a bad justification for the mistake, I’d love to explain to you HOW this mistake is even possible.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. In California, a BART officer claimed to have done the same thing. The case against Officer Mehserle lead to his conviction of manslaughter and wholesale training changes around the state.
My department in particular prevents us from carrying our Taser on our gun-hand side to avoid this very mistake. While rare, the mistake has made headlines multiple times since the BART shooting.
The simple answer is training. The more complicated answer is Stress.
In Stressful situations, basic training and advanced training deteriorates up to 60% of your training abilities. For example, if you are a B+ (86%) shooter on the shooting range against paper targets, you can expect your scores to drop down to 20% in a gun battle where someone is trying to kill you.
Stress causes an insane amount of physical symptoms (including but not limited to sweating, tunnel vision, shakings, elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, auditory exclusion, etc) to take place that harm your ability to complete fine motor movements, especially those involved in shooting.
It is similar for other situations. How do you overcome this? Train more and train under stress… which typically means training outside of work (for your average cop), with your own money and on your own time.
Basic academy and training courses do not suffice. Even with more training, real-life stress often doesn’t not measure up to simulations. Even military professionals can expect a degradation in skills during combat. The solution is often more exposure to combat – which is not necessarily what you desire in law-enforcement.
Sadly, the Defund-the-Police movement is the biggest hurdle to training as it pilfers police department budgets. Furthermore, the same movement (anchored by BLM) distorts the trust between the community and police officers.
Wherein you have politicians politicizing these events before facts are known, wherein you have emotions superseding evidence, wherein you have reactionary policies that harm innocent civilians caught in the crosshairs, the average hardworking American tends to be at the losing end of these battles more so than actual criminals in many cases.
This is why cities like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and others have actually reversed their defunding budgets to add millions more to policing as crime accelerated in urban communities. Why is crime accelerating? Because police officers have been hamstrung from doing their job.
Police officers are unwilling to put themselves into the dangerous situation they once did before if they do not have the means to do so anymore. What do I mean by that? If there is no support in training, from administration, from prosecutors (DAs office), from the Judicial branch, and from politicians. Sadly, the political sphere is ever-increasingly reaching further down the chain. Where politics once stopped at the Mayor’s office, now District Attorney’s offices are highly politicized. Now even chiefs are becoming political appointments. Consider DA Gascon in LA County. Gascon takes a harder stance against his officers than he does on murderers. People are finally realizing what a mistake he is.
Some of these points of support are negligible but if all of them turn against you – in spite of the rational communities cries – why would anyone risk it?
So now we have to deal with what effectively becomes a race to the bottom. Piss poor pay (in many states), no support at various levels as described, the likelihood of being killed in a homicide, poor training, poor equipment, and every action you make is under a political microscope… why would there be any incentive to join the police force if it weren’t for a full-throated calling or conviction to do so?
As otherwise strong and valuable candidates decide against joining the ranks of the police departments, cities are left to loosen the expectations and criteria for the application pool. With a weaker pool of applicants, the greater likelihood you’ll have a weak and less capable police force. This is dangerous trend for a profession that hold the power to take life and liberty.
If you’re still reading this and you have said, “This sounds like a full-throated excuse for the shooting, It isn’t. I am speaking in general terms regarding the context of this specific incident while keeping in mind the current trends in policing.
I do not know the department this officer is from or training she has received. From my seven years in policing, I can tell you that there are certain aspects to this event and national trends that lead me to these stated opinions.
So what should have happened?
It is difficult to Monday morning quarterback a police officer. Not because of any “blue wall of silence” garbage that I have never seen (personally) in my seven year as a cop (knowing over 400 individual police officers).
It is difficult to MMQB these situations because we know that there are peculiar facts and circumstances of every case that can cause a complete distinct and rational action necessary by the officers on scene. Sometimes knowing or not knowing bits of information is not enough – we need to know what the officer(s) were thinking, feeling, hearing, seeing etc., as well.
I remember a particular incident with an old partner of mine. After catching up to a speeding vehicle, the driver jumped out of the car and we chased a him into a liquor store. In the matter of a few seconds, we turned a corner aisle and heard what sounded like the metal rack of a handgun. Though the subject was later found to be unarmed, we proceeded to act as if he was armed based on that hair raised “click-clack” sound we know so well. Thankfully the male surrendered after passive resistance which led to active controlling force (hands and feet) rather than lethal force. Body camera didn’t pick this sound up when we reviewed it for our report. Body cameras are not the end-all be-all and should not be mistaken as such.
I can tell you there are a number of actions these two officers could have taken to prevent this incident from getting out of hand.
1. Have the suspect sit on the ground with his feet crossed during a warrant check – placing him at a position of disadvantage so that he cannot easily get up and run or enter his vehicle. A simple act that places the suspect at a position of disadvantage allows the officers time and leverage and ultimately the upper hand.
2. Remove the suspect from his vehicle and walk him away from the vicinity of the driver side door so he has no access to the car or any unforeseen weapons. Again, creating space and therefore adding time to react.
3. Handcuff the suspect before advising him of his arrest (thereby avoiding any attempts to resist now that the subject knows the gig is up). This does not guarantee a lack of resistance but it can delay it to allow for restraints.
4. Remove the keys from the ignition and place the on the opposite side or end of the vehicle (or retain them). If in the rare case the suspect makes it back to the car, he cannot drive away or use it as a weapon.
5. Double-team handcuffing. Once your partner notates resistance (passive or otherwise) assist in the handcuffing to avoid escalation and to maintain more control. Early control can deflate person’s desire to resist.
These 5 points here could have single-handedly assisted these officers in avoiding an escalated situation. Are they practiced at this department? Were the officers simply being lazy and too comfortable? We don’t know but what I do know is that this underscores again the necessity of training.
What I saw most from this video was the female officer’s lack of confidence in her most basic skills. Hand control techniques.
Every officer at some point in their career will need to place handcuffs on an arrestee. Every officer at some-point in their career will face someone who simply does not want to be arrested. While we can hope every cop is a Jiu-Jitsu master (I am far from it), being confident in a few moves with your hands and feet to take down and control a resisting suspect is a must.
The female officer immediately went to Taser, or what she thought was her Taser, during the first moments of active resistance. While her large partner still had contact with Mr. Wright, she quickly warned and grabbed for her Taser weapon. Why? A lack of confidence in hand-to-hand skills.
Going to your weapons would not be an issue if she were alone or if they were outnumbered but she already had one large partner in active contact and another officer the opposite side of the car. Grabbing an open limb and adding a point of contact to assist her partner would have benefitted greatly in controlling Mr. Wright.
Let us also not forget the male officer who was there… While he struggled to maintain control of Mr. Wright, he was over-confident in his skills and failed to ask for directing help from his partner. He then relinquished control of the resistive suspect once he noted his partner was going to use the Taser. Both actions allowed Mr. Wrights resistance to be successful and contributed to the accidental death.
This is why I am underscoring training (which includes actively communicating under stress). It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to police work especially given that the power to deprive life is within an officers duties.
Whether the climate was political or not, I could see the female officer being charged with manslaughter in this situation. While all accounts point to a tragic accident, I cannot confirm a conviction. Accidents happen but unfortunately for her and Mr. Wright, it came so at the cost of someone’s life during an intentional act in the performance of her duties – and the political climate is as warm as it can be.
• BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56724798 (Liberal bias)
• CNN https://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/01/06/BART.shooting/ (Left bias)
• Recruitment Issues https://www.theiacp.org/sites/default/files/239416_IACP_RecruitmentBR_HR_0.pdf