A judge in Mesa, Arizona just publicly released a video that is among the most shocking and outrageous things we’ve ever seen. In it, viewers witness the sad death of Daniel Shaver, who was shot by a police officer after “refusing” to comply with an almost impossible series of frantic, nonsensical commands. Said police officer – Philip Brailsford – was acquitted on charges of 2nd-degree murder last week, and it’s not very easy to understand why.
The video is as horrifying and disturbing as any police shooting ever released to the public. In it, Shaver, who attracted the attention of the police when allegedly waving a pellet gun out of the window of his La Quinta Inn hotel room in January 2016, is given a ridiculous series of shouted commands to betray just how terrified the cops were in the heat of the situation.
From the Washington Post’s characterization of Shaver’s final moments:
Langley tells Shaver to keep his legs crossed and push himself up into a kneeling position. As Shaver pushes himself up, his legs come uncrossed, prompting the officer to scream at him.
“I’m sorry,” Shaver says, placing his hands near his waist, prompting another round of screaming.
“You do that again, we’re shooting you, do you understand?” Langley yells.
“Please do not shoot me,” Shaver begs, his hands up straight in the air.
At the officer’s command, Shaver then crawls down the hallway, sobbing. At one point, he reaches back — possibly to pull up his shorts — and Brailsford opens fire, striking Shaver five times.
Juries found it plausible that Brailsford believed that Shaver was going for a gun when he reached back to adjust his shorts, and we’re not going to dispute that Brailsford believed just that. However, it is up to juries not simply to believe that an officer truly feared for his life but whether he did so reasonably. Any cop can say he was afraid for his life and make up a reasonable-sounding justification for it. But if we accept every excuse, then police officers really do have almost total impunity from the law. That obviously can’t be the case, so it’s up to juries to carefully consider whether the situations – taken in their totality – really needed to end in the suspect’s death.
We don’t like to second guess juries as a rule. Perhaps, if you looked at the full scope of the evidence in Brailford’s trial, you would come to the same conclusion. We’re less concerned about whether or not Brailsford “got away with murder” and more concerned with the public reaction to this video. So far as we’ve seen, there have been no marches in Shaver’s name. No one has rioted in Mesa, Arizona over this verdict. Why is that? Could it be because Shaver was a white man?
The fact is, sometimes police officers get it wrong. And sometimes, juries get it wrong as well. But neither of these facts mean that there is some sort of systemic racism in law enforcement or the justice system. It means, simply, that human beings are fallible. It may be painful that there are no larger lessons here – or at least none that allow for racial grandstanding – but that’s just the way that it is. If there is a widespread problem with trigger-happy police, it is a problem that needs to be resolved with better training across the board. That’s something we can all get behind. But if black activists want to cherry-pick the cases that matter to them so they can make their case for systemic racism, it becomes just too obvious to most Americans what it is that they’re doing.