Grand Jury: Shooting justified

by Joe Courter

On Sept. 16, the Gainesville Sun carried this headline with reference to the March 20 killing by police of 16-year-old Robert Dentmond, a Gainesville high school student. Robert himself had called 911 earlier in the evening, reporting he was suicidal and had a gun. The gun, as it turned out, was a plastic replica. There was a tense long standoff, with residents and family members there, but in the end, nine cops opened fire and killed Robert. There has been no follow-up response from the community nor a statement from his father.

So many questions remain. Second-guessing does not bring a life back. But the obvious conclusion is that this is a major, nationwide problem; mentally ill, depressed, or agitated people who do not respond to the barked commands of police may be tased and or shot.

We need calmer police, police not in a hurry when dealing with a disturbed person. We need family members on the scene, not shunted aside but used as mediators when possible. The killing of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, so bravely captured on his wife’s cell phone, shows she was there on scene. She could probably have de-escalated the situation but was never given a chance. Scenario training which rehearses violence will yield violent outcomes.

We saw it here in Gainesville in 2010 with Kofi Adu Brempung when police rushed his apartment and in seconds went through a sequence of firing a beanbag round, a taser, and a gun. On Sept. 28, in El Cajon, California, a mentally ill person, Alfred Olango, was tased and shot within a second. Same on the road in Tulsa last week, with the killing of Terence Crurcher; at least that officer has been charged. A tragedy for her, too, because with better training she might not have been so hair-triggered. But nothing compared to the family’s horror and loss.

Around the world it is not like this. Granted we have a lot of guns, and to be a cop here is a scary proposition. But better mental health awareness and treatment options, and a lifting of the stigma of getting treatment, could help. On a grander scale, better education, better job opportunities, and the elimination of endemic poverty are all things to make a better world possible. That is a ways down the road. For now, though, we need to expect and demand better police conduct, better training, a confrontation of internalized racism and a means of flushing out bad cops from the force. And I would say bad administrators, because there is rot at the top, too. 

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