If Brian Yant had been a black male (police officer), would the shooting of Trevon Cole have caused an outrage? (Yant is Caucasian.)
If Jesus Arevalo had been black, would the shooting of Stanley Gibson have caused an outrage?
ALL shootings should be examined based on the evidence and whether they are legally justified, no matter what the race or ethnicity of the shooter and victim may be. If female police officers start getting involved in fatal officer-involved shootings, will they come under scrutiny for overreacting because of their gender?
Why can’t the media be more objective and not sensationalize these incidents? Investigations become more complicated when police can’t focus on what is most important: was the shooting justified? A shooting may be legally justified (the police officer faces no criminal charges), but it may also be avoidable. The Coroner’s Inquests keep ‘clearing’ officers in Las Vegas and the public has been increasingly concerned. The shooter would have to show intent (or criminal negligence) to satisfy the elements of a crime. The word ‘malice’ is important because if the officer has no malice and just makes a bad decision or is in ‘fear’ for his life (bare fear), then this is addressed in the law in Nevada. An officer who is startled and fires because of ‘bare fear’ will not be considered to have committed a crime unless some other unusual circumstances exist, or there is more than mere negligence.
So what does the George Zimmerman murder trial have to do with shootings in Las Vegas — or elsewhere?
I like to use current events in my college classes. Last year, I had a feeling that the controversy over the Trayvon Martin death in Sanford, Florida would be an issue to follow as an example of our criminal justice system “in progress.” I saw a CNN photo of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton holding a banner in a parade on March 31, 2012. The sign read, JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON. George Zimmerman had not been arrested and a media feeding frenzy had begun.
What I found quite ironic about the news story that I printed out (and kept in a sheet protector for classroom discussions) was that there was a shooting in Miami the same day where two people were killed and 12 were injured. One of the wounded was a 5-year-old girl. The drive-by shooting occurred while a funeral was taking place! I wondered, Why is there so much media coverage of the Zimmerman vs. Martin incident (and protest march) but NOT the more horrible incident just four hours down the road?
Should it matter if the 14 were Black, White, or Hispanic? Should it matter what the shooting suspects ‘looked’ like? — or should their criminal conduct be what matters? Why is it that these incidents don’t make the national news and are not reported all the way from the initial incident to the arrests, trials, and sentencing, like the Martin/Zimmerman murder trial?
Someone came up with the term “SELECTIVE OUTRAGE,” and I think we are seeing a lot of this in America. It is tragic that a teenager (that could have been President Obama’s son) died, but teenagers are dying all over the US and other teenagers are going to prison for the shootings. Black on Black crime is an urgent issue, but there is no ‘spike’ in the media ratings unless there is something controversial — like a non-arrest by the Sanford, Florida Police Department.
The testimony from the first week of the George Zimmerman trial has been very revealing. I didn’t watch every moment on TV, but it appeared to me that the Sanford police made the correct decision in NOT immediately arresting George Zimmerman. As more information comes out in court (not through media propaganda), I think the correct decision was made (non-arrest). It is obvious that a person can still be prosecuted and possibly convicted even if an immediate arrest is not made. When Rachel Jeantel (the prosecution’s ‘star’ witness) started telling her story weeks after the shooting of her friend Trayvon — it was NOT BEING TOLD TO THE POLICE! People were already looking to capitalize on a possible civil lawsuit ($$$) or take advantage of the situation for personal gain (Martin’s mother and father have become public figures and have done all kinds of TV and other appearances… which probably bring them some payments). I’m sure they are upset, but why is their ‘case’ getting so much attention when the parents of other fatal shooting victims don’t seem to have a platform?
It is a fact of life that RACE MATTERS! When Martin apparently told his friend about a “creepy-ass CRACKER” that was following him, he gave everyone a glimpse of what was on his mind. Was Trayvon a racist? Could a background investigation reveal how he felt about non-black people? Did race matter? If a black man had been in George Zimmerman’s shoes, could this incident still have turned into a fatal shooting?
An acquaintance of mine (former Appleton, WI police chief Richard Meyers) took the job as the interim chief in Sanford, Florida after they ran their chief out of his job. Sanford now has a new (full-time) chief who is attempting to rebuild relationships in his community. If the verdict does not come back as ‘guilty’ for George Zimmerman, will there be rioting? What can the police do to prevent this? How about holding people accountable for the rioting (if it happens) — and track back all of the bogus information that has been put out from almost the day of the shooting of Trayvon. What does a Hoodie or Skittles have to do with the facts of this CITIZEN use of deadly force? Thank goodness that Zimmerman was not a retired or off-duty police officer!
I can say that there were some ‘themes’ or realities of life of being a police officer when I worked for the LVMPD. There was no discussion of the ‘sanctity of human life’ in the police academy. They have created a job for Sgt. Kelly McMahill in the Office of Internal Oversight so she can preach and teach this new ‘restraint’ and ‘de-escalation’ concept…better in this new position than allowing her to keep firing people (for crossing the street, such as happened to me two years ago today!)
What was the ‘talk’ or what were the ‘themes’ that I experienced?
You get six weeks off if you are in an Officer Involved Shooting.
You earned ‘respect’ for facing a life or death situation and prevailing.
You often received a new assignment (didn’t have to stay on graveyard) after a critical incident.
Were we ever ‘graded’ (Pass/Fail) for our ‘shoot/don’t shoot’ scenarios in our training programs, and were these grades recorded? For example: do any training records exist to show that Yant or Arevalo did a good job (or a bad job) of deciding when to shoot during their training? I don’t think these records exist, but they should! If the LVMPD is going to a new training program called MILO, then shouldn’t some individuals get ‘washed-out’ during training and fail the academy because they are not making good decisions on deadly force (in a controlled environment)?
There is some ‘artificial’ stress during training scenarios, but it can’t be anything like the intensity of an actual deadly force encounter. If after training and retraining, recruits (and current officers) are shooting when they should not be (no Ability, Opportunity, Imminent Jeopardy, or Preclusion), then they probably should no longer be carrying a gun and working the streets. Doesn’t this make sense? If you ‘fail’ your driving exam with DMV, do you get to drive a car?
In closing, this is the series of questions (i.e., ‘theme’) that I heard during my entire career after an OIS (Officer Involved Shooting):
Officer A and Officer B engage in this conversation:
A–Did you hear about the OIS last night?
B–No; was anyone killed? Is the officer OK?
A–Yes; suspect had a knife and supposedly charged the officer and was shot and killed.
B–Who was the officer?
B–Who was the suspect/shooting victim?
A–A dude named Raymond.
B–Is “Raymond” Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian?
A–Norm Jahn is white and “Raymond” is black.
So why is the race of the police officer and the race of the shooting victim so important? Should it be? It is what it is!
We (the police) were always more on edge when a police officer took the life of a minority and the worst scenario would be a white officer shooting a black teenager (or other minority). George Zimmerman is paying the consequences of a media industry and a society that have created a mess. The only thing that should matter — in most of these incidents — is a review of the facts and the circumstances, and then objective people should apply the law. Police officers and police departments are not perfect; but fixing the problems is less likely to occur when all of the other distractions and selective outrage continue to exist.
Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of continuous police experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.