Opinion

When it comes to police shootings, officers often the forgotten victims

Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr., left, leaves a press conference after speaking and releasing audio and video in regards to the Joseph Mann investigation on Tues., Sept. 20, 2016, Sacramento, Calif.
Sacramento Police Chief Sam Somers Jr., left, leaves a press conference after speaking and releasing audio and video in regards to the Joseph Mann investigation on Tues., Sept. 20, 2016, Sacramento, Calif. rbyer@sacbee.com

Stephon Clark was shot dead by Sacramento police with a cell phone in his hand they thought was a gun. Joseph Mann was shot by police while brandishing a knife at them. Mikel McIntyre tried to kill a deputy with a rock and was shot and killed.

More recently, Darrell Richards was killed by Sacramento police after pointing a pellet gun at them. These are the martyrs for whom justice is sought in protests on the streets and by tearful family members in the media.

There are many others killed by law enforcement we don’t hear much about. They did similar things. The cops react, perceive a deadly threat, make a split second life-or-death decision and fire. Most times the deadly threat is real. Sometimes peace officers are killed.

Sadly, we saw that scenario play out with the tragic murder of Officer Natalie Corona in Davis and Deputy Mark Stasyuk in Rancho Cordova. These are just two of the most recent. There are so many more.

Sometimes, when the smoke clears, the cops find out the gun was not real, or was something else. Why would someone go after a cop with a rock or a knife while the cop is pointing a gun and screaming at them to drop it? What do you call this madness that law enforcement faces on a regular basis? Suicide by cop.

Opinion

You may have heard the term before, but what does it really mean? Some are obvious. Take the case of a local man who expressed suicidal thoughts to his wife, then later forced a confrontation with deputies while armed with a knife. He told the deputies he knew what they would have to do and then charged them with the knife pointed at them. One of the deputies shot and killed him.

This is the classic case of suicide by cop, and it’s more common than you might think.

We now know that Clark was expressing suicidal thoughts just before he went on his final rampage. Other cases are not so obvious because they never told anyone they were suicidal. Because they are dead, we can’t ask them the obvious questions: “Why would you do that to an armed peace officer? Why wouldn’t you just do what they told you? Why did you make them shoot you?”

Maybe, due to drugs or mental illness, they were not capable of rational thought. A lifetime of problems comes to a head with a 911 call, a showdown with law enforcement and the final act of a troubled life is played out to its tragic end.

Their actions were suicidal. But do they become victims simply because they died at the hands of law enforcement? Does law enforcement become the “perpetrators,” as Rev. Al Sharpton referred to them when he called for justice in the Stephon Clark case? What does justice look like for someone who committed suicide by cop? What does justice look like for anyone who commits suicide? There are some situations where there is no justice. This is a sad fact of life.

Who are the real victims in these cases? They’re the peace officers who woke up that day wanting to go to work and protect the community they serve. They’re your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and acquaintances. They’re part of us, members of our community sent out by us to face the worst society has to offer.

Don Jones.jpg
Don Jones

The lives of the officers who have to kill are every bit as compelling as those they killed. Yet those they kill are portrayed as tragic victims and paraded center-stage. Is the story about the law enforcement officer who had to use deadly force and ultimately killed someone worth telling? I think so. We owe it to them.

It’s not easy for an officer who has to kill in this current climate of policing. What must it be like to watch protests in the streets, hear calls for your prosecution and be called a perpetrator?

The toll on the fellow citizens we call upon to be our protectors is huge. They all signed up to do good and help people. They do not handle the business of killing very well. It’s not natural for them. It goes against everything they have been taught.

Yet, when the time comes, they do their duty for their community and suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.

Time will heal some. Some never heal. All will suffer. None will ever forget what they have done. Their families will suffer tremendously.They take little solace in the fact their actions were professional, necessary and even heroic.

These are our peace officers serving our communities. Let us get past the false narratives of the day and understand the realities of policing a diverse society. We must support those we choose to police us.

Sacramento police shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark Sunday night, March 18, 2018. Clark was unarmed and holding only a cell phone.

Don Jones is a retired captain from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and grateful survivor of 40 years in law enforcement. He continues to serve as a volunteer for many worthy causes and enjoys life with his large family.
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