Of­fi­cer who re­fused to shoot black man mer­its praise, not dis­missal

South Florida Times - - OPINION - MO­HAMED HAMALUDIN Wash­ing­ton Post The Guardian The Guardian The Wash­ing­ton Post The The Guardian

Re­ports of po­lice of­fi­cers killing young black men point to a seem­ingly nev­erend­ing Amer­i­can tragedy. The sit­u­a­tion be­came so se­ri­ous that

and started daily track­ing the killings and the trends re­main grim. re­ported that at least 136 blacks were killed by po­lice in 2016.

At least 90 of the 354 peo­ple over­all killed by po­lice so far this year were black, said. Those fig­ures in­di­cate that 34 per­cent of un­armed peo­ple shot and killed by po­lice last year were black men, though African Amer­i­can men are only six per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

Per­haps one of the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors pro­duc­ing such sta­tis­tics is a U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing that up­holds the right of the po­lice to rea­son­ably use deadly force.

“The rea­son­able­ness of a par­tic­u­lar use of force must be viewed from the per­spec­tive of a rea­son­able of­fi­cer at the scene, rather than with 20/20 vi­sion of hind­sight,” the Court ruled, adding that “al­lowance must be made for the fact that of­fi­cers are of­ten forced to make split-sec­ond judg­ments in cir­cum­stances that are tense, un­cer­tain, and rapidly evolv­ing about the amount of force that is nec­es­sary in a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion.”

That opin­ion makes it al­most im­pos­si­ble for of­fi­cers to be pros­e­cuted, much less con­victed, in the killing of sus­pects and it is the pri­mary line of de­fense used by po­lice unions to jus­tify the use of deadly force.

What it does not do is take away the dis­cre­tion of the po­lice not to use deadly force, which is what Stephen Mader, then an of­fi­cer with the Weir­ton, West Virginia, po­lice de­part­ment, did – and he paid a price for it.

A May 10, 2017, a re­port in said Mader was re­spond­ing to a re­port of a dis­tur­bance at the home of RJ Williams on May 6, 2016. He said when he ar­rived Williams had his hands be­hind him. Mader or­dered him to show his hands and Williams low­ered them to his sides; it turned out he was hold­ing a pis­tol.

At this point, Mader said, he drew his own weapon and Williams screamed, “Just shoot me.”

Mader said his re­sponse was: “‘I don’t wanna shoot you, brother, just put down the gun.’”

Just about then, two po­lice cruis­ers drove up and, ac­cord­ing to Mader, the sus­pect “starts to wave his gun at me and the other of­fi­cers and, within sec­onds of the of­fi­cers get­ting out of their cruis­ers there were four shots fired.”

Those shots killed Williams, a black 23year-old fa­ther suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness; his gun was not loaded.

What makes this story even more un­usual is that the city of Weir­ton fired Mader for “neg­li­gence,” say­ing that his “fail­ure to re­act left him­self and those around him in grave dan­ger.” Stephen Mader, cen­ter, at his swear­ing in cer­e­mony.

“The un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity of po­lice work is that mak­ing any de­ci­sion is bet­ter than mak­ing no de­ci­sion at all,” the city said.

The killing is in the news again, a year af­ter the con­fronta­tion hap­pened, be­cause Mader has sued the city of Weir­ton claim­ing wrong­ful ter­mi­na­tion. In his law­suit, he re­jects the city’s claim, say­ing he did make a de­ci­sion, based on what he saw of Williams’ body lan­guage and his men­tal state. Williams did not present a threat and in his view de-es­ca­lat­ing the sit­u­a­tion was the ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse, he said.

“He wasn’t an­gry, he wasn’t ag­gres­sive. He didn’t seem in po­si­tion to want to use a gun against any­body. He never pointed it at me. I didn’t per­ceive him as an im­mi­nent threat,” said Mader, a former U.S. Ma­rine who served in Afghanistan.

His at­tor­ney, Tim O’Brien, put it this way: “When a po­lice [of­fi­cer] ex­er­cises re­straint – and some­times we don’t see that as much as we like to – that’s some­thing that should be praised rather than pun­ished.”

In this era of “Black Lives Mat­ter” and “Blue Lives Mat­ter” and “All Lives Mat­ter,” dif­fer­ing sen­ti­ments can cloud the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of what it means to be a po­lice of­fi­cer. The po­lice have to deal with crit­i­cal, life-and-death sit­u­a­tions daily but surely there must be very many other in­stances of of­fi­cers re­frain­ing from shoot­ing to kill as the first re­sort to end a con­fronta­tion.

Mader’s case should not dis­cour­age of­fi­cers from con­tin­u­ing to use their dis­cre­tion and the city of Weir­ton must not be al­lowed to make him a scape­goat f or do­ing the right thing.


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