The problem of police violence is underscored by the fact that protests over one killing are still ongoing when the next high-profile incident happens. Such is the case with the killing by Atlanta PD on Friday of Rayshard Brooks, whose crime was falling asleep (allegedly) in a Wendy's Drive-Thru.
The Brooks incident struck me not because it is unusual – sadly, it is a story every American whose head is not buried in sand has heard many times over the years – but because it so perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong and cannot be fixed with blandishments about "reform."
The APD version of events was so stupid that even if it were correct – which history tells us these things almost never are – it would still demonstrate that they acted inappropriately. If Brooks was unarmed, whether or not he "got belligerent" when approached by police they flat-out murdered him; shooting a man fatally because he, what, didn't put his hands behind his back fast enough? Told a cop to fuck off? Pulled his arm back when they reached for it? That's straight-up murder.
However, they've attempted to cover their asses by claiming Brooks reached for their Taser, i.e. that he was "armed" theoretically, in that they thought he might have a weapon in a moment. Now answer this: if police had justification to shoot every single person they encounter armed with something – gun, knife, pepper spray, taser, medieval halberd – they'd be gunning down dozens of people in every city every day. Being armed is a hobby for a lot of Americans. Police encounter people – especially white people, obviously – who are armed all the time. If they can arrest a white guy with three loaded handguns on his person without shooting him, they can apprehend a man they outnumber 3-to-1 who might be, allegedly, kinda sorta reaching for a stun-gun.
The point is, even the version of events given by the police and carefully crafted to justify what the police did fails to do so. Even their lies, as I am comfortable assuming the Official Version of Events will once again turn out to be, incriminate them.
Most of all, the Brooks incident highlights something that is only rarely given much attention in these stories: why would *anyone* feel the need to call the police because a man seemed to be asleep in a car? This is an obvious example of bringing police into a situation in which, knowing everything we know about the racial aspects of policing and police violence in this country, a bad outcome was more likely than a good one. This situation seems like it could have been handled with five hard taps on the windshield by one of the drive-thru employees. What, you're going to tell me people working the weekend overnight shift at the Atlanta Wendy's drive-thru have no experience with or ability to problem-solve drunks? Or people who are just tired, or whatever?
These situations are always described as "tragic" or "sad." Murder isn't "sad" so much as it is infuriating in these cases. What is tragic, and sad, and dumb, and so completely unnecessary is that the police were involved in this situation at all. Their actions are the second of two problems here. One is that they cannot handle a simple incident without shooting someone. The other is that this situation was somehow judged to require armed cops to show up to address it.
I know we are all wary of each other in this country, and especially late at night when people may be drunk or whatever, but for christ's sake, if the guy in the drive-thru seems like he is asleep just go tap on his fucking window. If we don't figure out some way to start interacting with other people except to call the cops to come and deal with them this problem is only going to get worse. I know there's no easy answer here, and it's a slippery slope to vigilantism if you take this argument too far. But this is serious. We can carp about how cops act – with good reason for carping – but we, all of us, need to contribute to a solution by not calling 9-1-1 at the drop of a fucking hat.