There’s been a lot in the news lately about the Georgia Tech police who shot and fatally wounded a young man–a “non-binary” campus activist who was approaching them with a weapon and not heeding commands. This young man has become in his death a bit of a symbol of the police penchant for cruelty and wanton murder toward people like this young man and others who defy them.
Yet when you look at the details of the situation, it sounds a whole lot more like “suicide by cop” than it does murder. But he was mentally ill, they’re saying. He wasn’t a threat to anyone. Less commonly heard is that he called the police on himself. He told them someone was out and about with a weapon–and maybe a gun.
Clearly, this gentle…person had some issues. Probably was mentally ill. But. Campus police didn’t know that? How could they have? Someone is walking toward them and not complying with any of their commands. He’s got something in his hand.
There are, of course, extraneous circumstances–as there always are in these instances. The media is certain to let us know about them. Yet I got to thinking–it’s so easy for us to second guess police. Why don’t they tase them? Why don’t they shoot them in the leg, or shoot the gun or knife out of their hand?
Imagine someone facing you from a few feet away and pulling out…anything. How long does that take? Or walking toward you brandishing something. When…the person gets close enough to you to make out what he’s carrying, what do you do? You can’t take your eyes off him long enough to study the object for any real length of time. He’s coming toward you. What do you do? How long does it take for this person to get close enough to harm them (if that’s what he wanted them to think he was going to do)?
Roughly speaking, it takes about 1.5 seconds. A second and a half. A great deal can happen in 1.5 seconds. Try this: hold out your arm straight in front of you with a pen in your hand. Drop the pen. Catch it before it hits the ground.
It isn’t that easy, is it? Or even possible. Now add stress to that. Someone shouting. The possibility of nearby people being injured.
Watch someone pull a banana from their waist. Or a Nerf gun. Time it. What if their back is to you? How long does it take for your eyes to recognize movement? Where the movement is coming from? What the movement is? The guy’s hand is moving…what’s in it? Is it a knife? A gun? Does he have anything else within easy reach?
1.5 seconds. That’s all you’ve got. That’s all that’s between you and…anything. Knife, gun, whatever it is.
Just watch this short video, and tell me how the police in the Georgia Tech incident–or any incident–could have reacted differently. Should they have thrown their handcuffs at him? What if he leapt? What if he lunged and sliced with a knife? What if threw something lethal or toxic? They tried to get him to stop–he didn’t. He left suicide notes; he wanted to die. Certainly these men didn’t set off wanting to kill anyone, and it’s hard to imagine the incident being related to homophobia. But what do I know?