Around 10:30pm on Friday 12th June, Atlanta police responded to a call of a man asleep in his car in the drive-through lane of a local Wendy’s restaurant, blocking other customers’ access to the establishment.
Officer Devin Brosnan arrived to find Rayshard Brooks, a 27 year old black man, passed out at the wheel of his vehicle. He approached Brooks and ordered him to pull into a parking bay and clear the way for other customers to use the outlet. Brosnan was then joined by Officer Garrett Rolfe 14 minutes later who suspected that Brooks was intoxicated rather than, say, a narcoleptic for whom spontaneously losing consciousness while queuing for a burger was a run of the mill occurrence, and asked him if he would be willing to complete a field sobriety test.
Brooks appeared hesitant to acquiesce to a DUI test and claimed he’d only had one and a half margaritas, but eventually agreed and blew a hefty .108 on the breathalyser revealing him completely unfit to drive. He was duly arrested but as soon as the police began attempting to handcuff the hitherto calm and reasonably compliant Brooks, he freaked. He immediately initiated a violent struggle which resulted in all three men rolling around on the floor whilst the officers screamed at him to stop fighting and to let go of the Taser he was attempting to seize from Brosnan. During the scuffle Brooks managed to punch Rolfe in the face, overpower both officers, snatch the downed cop’s Taser, and take off running.
As the officers leapt to their feet and pursued Brooks, Rolfe deployed his Taser which for whatever reason, proved completely ineffective. Brooks then turned during the chase and appeared to fire the stolen Taser at Rolfe who quickly drew his sidearm and fired three shots at Brooks hitting him twice in the back and killing him.
The entire physical confrontation lasted less than a minute, which incidentally is roughly how long it took for the usual response of partisan demagoguery, race-baiting propaganda, and knee jerk hysteria to rear its familiar head.
Due to surface-level similarities with George Floyd’s horrific killing at the hands, or rather knees, of four Minneapolis police officers, this shooting was portrayed as the latest example in a long line of racist cops executing black people for kicks.
Officer Rolfe was immediately fired at the behest of the Atlanta Mayor who had seemingly determined his guilt unilaterally, Brosnan was swiftly placed on desk duty, and the Atlanta police chief resigned over the incident.
Protesters – or “arsonists” as they’re sometimes known – decided to turn up at the Wendy’s restaurant where this incident took place and burn it to the ground – a perfect way to punish all the rich, privileged, systemically racist elites who presumably earn their fortunes working the night-shift in takeaway burger joints.
Celebrities and famous figures likewise voiced their outrage:
Brooks was an “innocent victim of racism, violence, and intolerance” declared Justin Timberlake.
Michael Moore claimed that Brooks had been shot by “bastards” for “dozing off at Wendy’s.”
The shooting of Brooks was a “Cold blooded murder” of a “completely compliant” man according to actor Kevin Nash.
Actress and Singer Dove Cameron likewise announced that police had “murdered” the “completely compliant” Brooks.
He was “respectful and compliant with the police” insisted professional basketballer Quinn Cook.
Author Padma Lakshmi theorised that Brooks would not have been killed had he been white.
U.S politician Stacey Abrams appeared on ABC news to inform their audience that Brooks had been “murdered because he was asleep in a drive-through”. She also went on to assert that it was an undeniable fact that Brooks had been killed due to his skin colour.
As tends to be the case, many armchair critics with apparently no experience of police work but an overwhelming instinct that they could do the job in their sleep, began to detail their complaints:
“Tasers are not lethal, therefore Brooks posed no threat” they claimed.
Unfortunately this, like the cynical and deeply irresponsible summaries being trotted out by celebrities, is not true. The term “non-lethal weapon” to describe Tasers is rightfully contentious and is often abandoned for the more accurate term “less-lethal weapon.” Tasers exist to give police an alternative to firing live rounds and thereby reduce the likelihood of killing anyone. And they generally achieve that goal but have notoriously disparate and unreliable results. In some instances being hit with a Taser can have no effect whatsoever, as was the case with Brooks, yet in others it can instantly render giants of men into convulsing whimpering heaps on the ground. And in yet other cases, their effects can prove fatal. According to statistics published by Reuters, approximately 1,081 people have been killed by Tasers in the U.S since their inception.
Therefore the weapon Brooks had illicitly and forcefully armed himself with, had the potential to not only kill or seriously injure his pursuer, but to incapacitate him with 50,000 volts and thereby open up the possibility that Brooks could very quickly procure the fully-loaded firearm on the would-be paralysed cop’s hip.
It was also asked why the officers didn’t initially just let him sleep off his inebriation in his car, or why they didn’t let him walk home as inexplicably suggested by the Brooks family lawyers. The answer in both cases is simple and the same: He was found by police to be highly intoxicated whilst in charge of a motor vehicle. This is a crime for which arrest is warranted. If the cops had inexplicably decided to turn a blind eye to this dangerous criminality and instead went on their merry way, there was nothing to stop Brooks climbing back into his car and driving off, putting the safety of pedestrians and other road users in jeopardy. Drunk driving is illegal for a reason.
Another common complaint is that they didn’t “just shoot him in the leg”. Questions like this represent a complete departure from the reality of firearm use. Shooting a moving target is hard enough. Hitting the extremities of a moving target with pin point precision during a chase in which the shooter himself is also running, is nigh-on impossible.
Because legs are so hard to hit, aiming for them is utterly irresponsible behaviour. Bullets fired at a moving leg will have a far greater chance of missing the target, or simply going straight through it, thereby increasing the likelihood of hitting innocent bystanders. And even on the unlikely occasion that the shot lands and impacts perfectly, it can result in wounds that are often just as lethal as body-shots.
Police are therefore trained to aim for the upper torso or “centre mass” as the most effective and reliable way of stopping an attacker. And an attacker is what Brooks was. The fact that he was running away does not alter that. He had already violently assaulted the officers, was attempting to flee the scene with an illicit weapon, and in the act of doing so chose point this weapon at an officer’s face and – according to some media outlets – actually fired it at him.
This is insane behaviour that anyone of any skin colour might well consider replicating should they ever feel inclined to commit suicide by cop. There is hardly a more sure-fire method of securing a tragic outcome for you and your loved ones than to turn an arrest into an impromptu wrestling match with armed police officers and then to point weapons in their direction. To do so is to wilfully take your life into your own hands.
Police have to make spilt-second decisions in life or death situations and act in an instant for their own protection and for the safety of others. They have to do real-time risk assessments in circumstances unfolding in the blink of an eye whilst instinctively and instantly considering all complicating factors that may inhibit their ability to make the arrest and still make it home to their families at the end of the shift. They have to be aware of how conditions can switch on a dime and then perform lightning-speed risk assessments of those new scenarios.
This video neatly illustrates how quickly situations can turn deadly and the difficulties faced by arresting officers in even the most pedestrian of situations.
This is the kind of psychological pressure cops are under when going about their duties on a daily basis, and this along with the level of atrocity and tragedy that they’re constantly exposed to, explains why they have the highest suicide rates of any profession. We ask cops to take risks as part and parcel of their job, but we’ve no right to demand that they take stupid and unnecessary risks. We instead afford them the right to protect themselves and others, in certain contexts, by employing deadly force.
Former FBI Special Agent and law enforcement analyst James Gagliano details the context applicable here in which such force may be used:
“(When)…he or she reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury and when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”
I fail to see how this does not describe the situation in which officer Rolfe found himself. Again, had the Taser incapacitated Rolfe, a man who had already proven a willingness to use violence against him would have potential access to his gun.
For someone to lose their life at the age of 27 is a tragedy and my heart bleeds for Brooks’s family, particularly his step-son and three young daughters, one of whom had celebrated her 8th birthday the day before her father was killed. But the unfortunate fact remains that Brooks took it upon himself to turn a routine drunk stop into a situation where these two officers were forced to either take extraordinarily irresponsible gambles with their own safety and that of others in the vicinity, or to neutralise the immediate threat posed by a violent and erratic criminal.
Yet the way that this story has been spun and flat out lied about by people whose reach and influence is far greater than their sense of responsibility, is feeding a very dangerous false narrative that it is open season on black people from white racist murderous police.
Sam Harris recently broke down the statistics on his Making Sense podcast which reveals a different picture and one which I summarise below. I highly recommend listening to the entirety of the episode.
From between 50 to 60 million encounters between the police and the public in the U.S per anum, and from roughly 10 million arrests, the number of people killed per year by police in these encounters is roughly 1000.
In other words; the chance that anyone will die during the act of being arrested is around 1 in 10,000. Of those deaths, around 25% are black victims and 50% are white victims. Whilst it’s true that this represents a disproportionate number of black victims compared to their percentage of the population, black people commit a highly disproportionate number of the violent crimes and murders in the U.S – around half – and are therefore likely to have a higher proportion of encounters with police. Yet black suspects are almost 25% less likely to be shot than white suspects
The unjustified killings of black people by police therefore must be vanishingly small, even smaller still will be the number legitimately attributable to racism.
A single racist killing by a police officer is one too many and immediate actions should be taken to cleanse the police force of any and all racism whilst prosecuting racist killers to the fullest extent of the law, but this is a very different picture than the one being painted by protest groups and even by many mainstream commentators.
As Harris states, the only decent studies we have currently “suggests that whites are more likely to be killed by cops once an arrest is attempted…and given the data we have, it seems undeniable that more whites are killed by cops each year both in absolute numbers and in proportion to their contributions to crime and violence.”
Kennan Mailk expands further in a recent piece for the Guardian:
“More than half of those killed by US police are white and while, proportionately, police killings of African Americans have fallen in recent years, that of white people has sharply risen. Some analyses suggest that the best predictor of police killings is not race but income levels – the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be killed.”
But neither does this suggest that there are armies of cops bouncing out of bed every morning elated at the possibility that they may get to shoot a poor person that day. There are other factors at play such as the level of criminality among poor people along with the role of poverty as a cause of crime, and the numbers in which poor people may violently resist arrest.
The killing of George Floyd was utterly reprehensible, and the level of negligence and ambivalence shown by Derek Chauvin throughout the 8 minutes and 46 seconds Floyd spent dying in the street under his knee, was indistinguishable from psychopathy.
But the killing of Rayshard Brooks constitutes a very different case and I fear that the two officers involved in his death may become further victims of the climate of rightful outrage felt over George Floyd’s killing. But then I also fear that unless they are convicted and given entirely questionable long-term prison sentences, it’s virtually inevitable that we will endure more of the riotous and criminally thuggish retaliations of arsonists, looters, and yobs that have already claimed many more victims of all races.
This can’t be the way forward.