In Fresno, California on June 25, an unarmed 19-year-old man was shot to death by police. According to the police, he ran from the police, led them on a half-mile chase, and then refused to show his hands. They say he made a “conscious effort to conceal one hand behind his back, then in his waistband, as he exited the truck, and walked away from officers,” that he said he “hated his life,” then approached officers and was shot. There is video of the shooting. The shoot was likely good.
This story has received no national press. The 19-year-old man was white.
In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two police officers responded to a 911 call about a black man, Alton Sterling, allegedly threatening people with a gun. Sterling had a long criminal history. The cops arrived, Sterling resisted arrest; they tackled him to the ground and attempted to pin him. Two videos show them pinning down the left side of his body, struggling with his right hand. One of the officers shouts, “he’s got a gun…you f***ing move, I swear to God!” The two officers then shout “Gun!” and fire into his body, killing him.
There is not enough available evidence on the tapes to see whether indeed Sterling was reaching for his gun, which he was carrying illegally.
Near St. Paul, Minnesota, Philando Castile was driving with his girlfriend – both of them are black -- when they were pulled over by an officer. We don’t know what happened next, but there is video after the officer has shot Castile. The girlfriend calmly claims that the officer asked Castile for ID, then shot him when he reached for it: “He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm.” The officer screams, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out.” Castile had a gun in the car, and a concealed carry permit. To an admittedly untutored ear, it sounds like the officer may in fact be panicking, knowing he’s made a horrific error in judgment.
But we don’t know what happened, because there is no video. That has not stopped the press from breaking into spasms of race-baiting ecstasy. Castile’s mother told CNN, “Sometimes you have those that, you know, sit up and say that there is no more…profiling. You’re still saying there’s no profiling, but [there] is. We’re being hunted every day. It’s a silent war against African-American people as a whole….We’re never free.”
These two cases are not the same. But they are being treated as two halves of the same whole by the press and the politicians, who deem them evidence of America’s racist police culture. This is asinine.
First, there’s not enough evidence to see what happened in either case.
Second, even if the cops acted wrongly, there’s no evidence of racist intent.
Third, even if there were evidence of racist intent, that would not indict police officers across the country, who shoot white suspects in confrontational situations more often than they shoot black suspects.
But narrative matters more than facts. And so we can’t wait for all the evidence to out – we have to jump to our respective ideological positions. If we suggest that more evidence be allowed to surface, we’re called racists who do not care sufficiently about innocent black men being shot by the cops.
And so Americans cave, and give in to their worst instincts when it comes to criminal cases: they jump to conclusions in a single bound. And those conclusions are often wrong. In the Michael Brown case, for example, 57 percent of black adults said that Officer Darren Wilson should have been convicted of murder in August 2014. He was innocent. 56 percent of white Americans said they needed more information.
There was one right answer there; there was one wrong answer. But the American people are constantly pushed to give the wrong answers on police shootings involving black victims.