Richard Gregory Davis, the latest black man to die after a run-in with police, is something of a composite of previous victims. Like Eric Garner, Davis weighed 300 pounds and is described by family members as having had “breathing problems.” Like Freddie Gray, he died while in police custody. Like Michael Brown, he is remembered by friends and loved ones as a gentle giant.
The previous paragraph is meant in no way to dehumanize Davis, a 50-year-old grandfather of 11. Rather it is intended to emphasize how distressingly commonplace — and politically divisive — these stories have become. The questions to be asked now are the ones that have become de rigueur as well: What will an autopsy reveal and how will the black community and leadership react?
Davis died last Sunday after what eyewitnesses describe as a “wild ride” though his Rochester, N.Y., neighborhood that ended when he rammed his red pickup into two parked cars, a fence, and a church. He reportedly exited his vehicle and lunged with clenched fists at police, who responded by Tasering him. Officers handcuffed his prone figure but, upon sensing that he was in distress, removed the cuffs and attempted rescue breathing. Davis died later at an area hospital.
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Early indications are that this story may end differently from previous incidents. Apart from the eyewitness accounts, which uniformly suggest that police acted appropriately, a black city councilman named Adam McFadden told the Democrat & Chronicle, a local newspaper:
From what I’ve been told by a person who claims to have witnessed what happened, it sounded to me the exact same way the mayor and the police chief say it happened [which is that Davis menaced officers, who sought merely to restrain him].
The interesting thing about him being Tasered — in all of my time being on council, every time we have a police shooting, the first thing people say is ‘Why couldn’t they have Tasered the person?’ So in this case they Tasered the guy and he succumbed to some issues, but having someone being Tasered as opposed to being shot is the direction I think most people would like to see our Police Department going in.
From what I can tell the guy did charge at officers and they decided to Tase him and they were in their rights and their training to do so. It’s unfortunate that he died, because that’s the last thing you want to happen, but at the same time we have to get to the point that when the police tell us to do something, whether it’s put our hands behind our back or get down, just do it. We have to stop putting police in the position where they have to make a split-second decision about their safety versus yours.
A local clergyman, Clifford Florence, echoed that sentiment, saying, “We want peace while justice is being pursued.”
Davis’s family is understandably upset, but they too claim to want answers, not revenge. Davis’ son, 27-year-old, Shamell Davis, told reporters:
This is an actual life. It’s not just another case. You have people that love him, as you can see. Nobody is perfect. We all have our faults. We just want to know what really happened.
The Democrat & Chronicle report ends on an optimistic note, with one last comment by Adam McFadden: “[A]t the end of the day, they [the police] used the Taser versus a gun, I see that as progress.” Will the rest of the nation see it the same way?
(h/t reader maddog2008)