On the night of June 12, white policeman Garrett Rolfe shot and killed black man Rayshard Brooks. As protesters, rioters, and looters take to the streets in that city, a question arises in my mind: who is responsible?
This question keeps clawing at my brain, especially as I watch the video of Brooks’ arrest. Over the weekend, I kept obsessing about the situation. Brooks’ car was stopped in the drive-through lane of a Wendy’s fast food restaurant at around 10:30 PM. A Wendy’s employee called police who found Brooks asleep in the car. After instructing Brooks to move his car, Rolfe noted that Brooks was confused and disoriented, so he gave Brooks a sobriety test, finding his blood alcohol level to be well above Georgia’s legal limit for driving. Brooks was respectful, calm, and cooperative during this time, as you can see on the bodycam video. Rolfe decided to arrest Brooks and came behind him to put on handcuffs with the assistance of another officer. Brooks suddenly attacked the officers, hitting them, grabbing Rolfe’s taser, and fleeing. Rolfe ran after Brooks, warning him to stop. Brooks turned his arm behind him and fired off the taser at Rolfe who shot Brooks, killing him.
Why did all this happen? Why did the officer need to handcuff a man who was cooperating? Why would the man grab the officer’s taser and run? Why would a policeman shoot a man who only had a non-lethal taser? In what kind of situation would these actions make sense? To try to understand it, I put myself in each of their places, in the context of what’s going on in America since the death of George Floyd.
Police are now the victims of harassment, lawsuits, death threats, physical attacks, and murder. Police are being targeted by radical groups but also by supposedly peaceful protesters and mainstream politicians including mayors and governors. Every police officer’s action is being scrutinized, and police are being fired, sued, and forced to resign at any hint of impropriety. Being a police officer is one of the most difficult and stressful jobs I can imagine in good times, and these are not good times. I can imagine that every police officer is on edge to do exactly the right things at all times while protecting himself or herself from potentially fatal attacks. I can imagine that officer Garrett Rolfe called in backup in case Brooks became violent or a violent crowd gathered. He may also have wanted witnesses to such violence if it occurred. He may have decided to use handcuffs to prevent an attack like the ones we’ve seen against police repeatedly in the so-called peaceful protests.
Rayshard Brooks has seen over and over again on TV—and heard repeatedly from politicians, community leaders, and protesters—that the police are committing “genocide” against black people. For the last two weeks, American corporations, Hollywood actors, and politicians have stated that police officers are “slaughtering black men in the streets.” Protestors have shouted it with megaphones. I can imagine that Brooks was cooperating with the police, as he should, until the officers went behind him to handcuff him. I can imagine that the scene of George Floyd being murdered ran though his head. I can imagine that those voices describing genocide rang in his ears. In that situation, I can understand him grabbing the nearest weapon and fleeing.
I blame the protesters. These people who claim to be concerned about black lives are destroying black lives. They are impeding the ability of police to reduce crime, particularly in areas where many black people live. They are providing cover and protection for rioters and looters to destroy black-owned property, destroy black-owned business, and destroy businesses that provide necessary products and services to black communities. They are forcing white people to kneel before black people, admit to the crimes of generations past, apologize for their “privilege,” and atone for sins they did not commit. The protesters are furthering the divide between whites and blacks by instilling fear of the other in each group.
On Facebook recently, some progressive acquaintances were wishing horrible fates on the people who had protested the lockdowns in Michigan and elsewhere. Some wished death on those protesters who “should be at home wearing masks to protect the rest of us from the virus.” These same people cheered the George Floyd protesters, many of whom are not wearing masks and none of whom are social distancing. The common reply was that these protesters are righting a serious wrong in our society and so anything they do is acceptable to bring social justice. I asked whether that includes the predicted millions of deaths due to spreading the virus. I asked if they were willing to die for this cause and allow their friends and families to die. The response was yes, for social justice. I don’t think any of these mostly white, mostly upper middle-class people really consider their death as anything more than a hypothetical answer to a rhetorical question. But the protesters have some responsibility for the death of Rayshard Brooks and the other deaths that have already occurred and, sadly, the many others to come.
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