Police Kill Unarmed Man
Please note that I am not trying to assign or remove blame from the deceased or the officers involved in this incident. I believe that through the course of the investigation the truth will surface and any wrong-doing, if that is the case, by these officers will be handled appropriately.
Mixed into the vast amount of news this past week was the story of Gilbert Flores of Bexar County, Texas. Mr. Flores was shot and killed by police officers responding to a call for a domestic incident at his home. Initially the story was as follows (in my own words):
Mr. Flores was contacted by at least two police officers and a verbal altercation ensued. Mr. Flores, clothed in shorts and tennis shoes (no shirt) can be seen in video footage of the event pacing in his front yard and communicating with the police officers, who have him at gunpoint from a distance of roughly 10-20 feet. Mr. Flores leaves the camera view multiple times as he steps behind (in accordance with the viewpoint of the camera operator) a police SUV. Mr. Flores then appears to raise his hands as in surrendering while facing the police officers, at which time one or more shots are fired and Mr. Flores collapses to the ground, expiring shortly thereafter.
During the news broadcasts there was mention that the spouse of Mr. Flores as well as his young child (18 months old, I believe) were injured prior to the police arriving and that Mr. Flores was reported to have had a knife on his person. Multiple news agencies reported on an extensive criminal history for Mr. Flores as well as the possibility that he was agitated and may be mentally disturbed at the time of the event. Also to note, and this has not been verified, reports stated that the responding police officers employed less than lethal means to subdue Mr. Flores prior to the shooting event (reported as both pepper spray and taser) which had no effect on the subject.
The video being shown by news agencies is very incriminating when viewed by the general public. The distance from Mr. Flores to the camera operator is significant, (I estimate at least 100-200 feet), the camera is moving constantly and sometimes the frame goes out of view of Mr. Flores for brief moments. Due to the distance there is no sound of the communication between Mr. Flores and the responding officers, the sound of the gunshots is the only audio of the incident provided from this evidence. Also, when Mr. Flores raises his arms as if surrendering his left arm is concealed from view by a pole in the frame of the video. Reports have indicated that the officers were not wearing body cameras and the police vehicles were not running their dashcams during the incident. As of this morning there are reports of a second video taken by a witness that is from a better, as well as closer, vantage point. According to a source close to the investigation Mr. Flores had a knife in his left hand (obscured from view in the first video). If you watch the full video you see one officer kick something away from the area of Mr. Flores after he falls, which I can only assume is the aforementioned knife.
The Initial Call
The police were responding to a “domestic violence” call when they contacted Mr. Flores. Anyone familiar with policing statistics will quickly point out that domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous types of calls police respond to in the line of duty. The dangers involved in a domestic violence call are numerous and varied. Officers must not only deal with the aggressor, but often times the victim or children involved in the incident. Any of these individuals can present a very real potential for danger to police officers. This would certainly cause the officers to be more “on guard” during this event.
It is unknown at this time if the officers were aware of the reported injuries to the spouse and child of Mr. Flores. If they were aware of the injuries they will certainly be more cautious when dealing with Mr. Flores as he has already shown violence toward not only a spouse, but also a very young child. If the officers did NOT know of the injuries (specifics) there would be concern that while they are dealing with Mr. Flores the victims could potentially expire if they hadn’t already. Also a concern would be that Mr. Flores would flee back into the home and create a hostage situation or complete a murder/suicide attempt. There are so many potential endings to this incident, most of which are horrific and very few of which end peacefully.
According to officers Mr. Flores was very aggressive and was not responding to their orders. According to reports the police had already attempted to subdue Mr. Flores using less than lethal methods (pepper spray and taser). Following the rather standard rules for use of force, the next available option is lethal force if the subject presents a danger to themselves, the officers or the public at large. I understand that it makes no sense to most people to shoot someone for threatening to kill themselves. Amazingly a very high number of individuals that are shot by police officers survive their wounds. The thought process is that if the officers can end the situation and immediately begin life saving efforts there is a much higher chance the incident resolves without any further injury to INNOCENT bystanders or the public at large. It is also important to note that EMS units were already on-scene according to the report by the individual filming the event.
Police and the Monday Morning Quarterback
First I want to point out to those that haven’t figured it out yet, the media is all about ratings. The more shocking or disturbing a story, the higher the viewership, the more the broadcast company can milk from commercials, etc. Please bear that in mind when you read all of the shocking and horrifying headlines surrounding this and all other major media events. Moving on…
I believe I have seen this story on my Facebook and Twitter feed at least 100 times since it was reported. Each time I see if the headline is a little more skewed for shock value. Yes, I understand that a seemingly unarmed man was shot dead by police. Yes, I understand that from the original video it appears the man was surrendering when he was shot. Yes, I understand that currently in our country there is much debate over police officers and the use of deadly force due to many recent events. I get it.
Many of those posting the story are imparting their wisdom as to how they feel the police should have responded and handled the situation. Also, many of those posting their opinions have exactly ZERO experience with being a police officer, dealing with police officers, dealing with armed suspects or putting their lives in danger on a daily basis to protect perfect strangers. How this affords them the innate ability to discern what SHOULD have happened in a given situation is simply beyond my reasoning.
The Warning Shot
Many of the social media outcries in this case and others like it call for police officers to fire a “warning shot” at the subject. This is by far one of the worst ideas ever and probably comes directly from movies and stories about the wild west. The scene shows bad guys doing bad guy things and the Marshal steps in unobserved and fires his six shooter once into the ceiling of the saloon thereby stopping all activity as everyone slowly turns to see what happened. He then apprehends any number of dirtbags single handedly or a gunfight ensues in which he fired 43 shots through his six shooter while only reloading once. You gotta love Hollywood.
In real life warning shots are not only stupid, they are also illegal. Physics will tell you that anything that goes up without breaking the pull of Earth’s gravity and escaping into space must also come down. Its the coming down part that worries the people that made the rules. You can imagine the outcry if a warning shot fired by an officer struck an innocent person on the way down. This doesn’t even touch on the idea that firing a warning shot means aiming your weapon away from the threat, thereby affording the threat an opportunity to inflict harm on someone else, including the officer.
Shoot Him In The Leg
Ahh, the ubiquitous kneecapper. This is my second favorite theory of how to stop a bad guy without killing them. It is obvious the people screaming for the “leg shot” have either never fired a gun before or have never fired one under stress or duress. Standing at the range with your regularly practiced stance and your paper target bad guy is certainly great for learning how to handle your weapon in perfect conditions but it really has no bearing on how you handle things when faced with a real threat. Don’t get me wrong practice is important and marksmanship is a perishable skill, but when faced with a true threat it will only take you so far. Imagine making those same shots when adrenaline is coursing through your body, you are scared, hot, sweating, breathing hard and facing down a potentially dangerous person with a weapon.
Shooting at a target that is not static, meaning the target can move of its own accord, presents an issue to most shooters. Further complicating that issue by adding that you are now aiming at a smaller target (mid body is much larger than a leg) makes a leg shot difficult. If the officer misses the target the subject then has an opportunity to react. The subject could flee, putting the general public at risk. The subject could advance, putting the police officer at risk. There is also the not so small issue of a bullet travelling at a high velocity and missing its target will eventually hit something, potentially multiple somethings if it ricochets. Ricochets can cause bullets to travel in unexpected directions at a high rate of speed thus creating the potential of an innocent person watching through a window, walking or driving down the street, standing in a yard, etc getting hit.
When an officer fires his or her weapon at a subject the point is not to hurt them. The point is to eliminate the immediate threat. Even if a leg shot were successful it is not certain the threat would be ended. You must remember that according to the available information (not verified) the officers had already attempted to use pepper spray and a taser to subdue Mr. Flores. These two methods of less than lethal force were insufficient for one or more reasons. These officers apparently believed that lethal force was their only remaining option.
Call A Negotiator
This method of dealing with the issue is actually not a bad idea. Only time will tell if a negotiator was dispatched or if the officers at the scene felt that there was either no reason to dispatch the negotiator or if they simply hadn’t thought of that possibility. Generally speaking when a subject is not barricaded or holding hostages a negotiator is not the top of the priority list.
One fallout from this event has been an increase to the building hostility towards police and their tactics. Everything from “police state” claims to “abuse of authority” to racial murder is being bandied about for reasons that police officers are shooting suspects. Facebook and Twitter are full of posts calling for attacks on police officers and their families. Call to disarm the police have been lower in volume lately but they are increasing as well. I take issue with these things because statistically the police as a whole are still doing a great job protecting the citizens of this country and the number of “bad cops” is relatively small in relation to the total number of cops walking the beat. Yes, I understand one wrongful death is too many. Yes, I agree that officers abusing their power and/or killing people without cause should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I do not believe that citizens should be putting out videos and social media memes calling for attacks on police. I believe this is highly dangerous and sends a message that we as a society should be railing against.
Events that capture our attention and bring thousands if not hundreds of thousands of new viewers to news broadcasts will only serve to continue the cycle of “shock and awe” reporting. The 24 hour news cycle is ALWAYS looking for that next great story that they can pick apart, over analyze and use to spread more grief and strife. It is the new job of our media to ensure we as a nation are in a constant state of anger and fear, in order to sell their coveted advertisement slots. Stop feeding this machine of destruction, if at all possible.
General Fear and Mistrust
Another aspect of the shock and awe reporting is a very real fear among some people that interaction with police officers is hazardous to their health. Although most people will still react properly when approached by police officers, others may get nervous, increasing the likelihood that the interaction escalates. A situation that may normally end with an officer giving someone a warning for speeding may turn into a drug search if the officer senses the driver is nervous. Nervous people don’t always react well to pressure and may decide to drive to a public place or even a police station, but in doing this the escalation could in with very negative results and another major story on the news.
Whether or not Mr. Flores was truly a threat that required lethal force should be determined by the investigation, which now includes the FBI and the Justice Department. I may not agree with the findings, others may not agree with the findings, but in the end we must all use this event to advance our knowledge of the situation nationally and consider how we can react to police interactions to lessen the chance of being fodder for the broadcast companies.
Police officers have the authority to stop you, detain you, question you and arrest you if they believe you are breaking the law or presenting a threat to others. If you are not doing anything wrong you will most likely be sent on your way immediately or after a short investigation. (Please don’t start gabbing about people wrongly accused or wrongly convicted, that is a different conversation). In the event a police officer approaches you and engages you with questions, and in the event you have nothing to hide or haven’t done anything wrong, comply with their orders and keep your mouth shut. If you are arrested invoke your 5th amendment rights and then ask to speak with an attorney. Although it is never a certainty that an innocent person will be vindicated in court, it is an almost a certainty that a dead person will never live again.
I know some “libertarian” minded folks will be seething about compliance when they haven’t done anything wrong, but when it comes to proving right and wrong I would rather be there for my day in court than be posthumously cleared of any wrong doing.
Lastly my thoughts and prayers are with the Flores family and the police officers and their families. This is a tragic event that will have enduring effects on all sides no matter the outcome. A life lost is always a tragedy and the decision to take a life is not easy to bear. God bless to you all.
Stay safe and be smart.