Ed. – This story was originally posted Sept. 24, 2020. It is being rerun here in the wake of reactions to the shootings in Boulder, which claimed the life of ten people. Prior to the release of the gunman’s name and details of his background and beliefs, social media exploded with reactions like those that follow:
Among the more noteworthy reactions were those of former President Barack Obama, who released a statement to the effect that this and other recent killings were driven by “disaffection, racism and misogyny,” and Kamala Harris’s niece Meena, who tweeted on Monday, “The Atlanta shooting was not even a week ago. Violent white men are the greatest terrorist threat to our country.”
Our hope is that this story will provide some fresh perspective on gun violence and the role of the police in stemming it.
Here are four news stories, two of them from this year. These stories were chosen at random from dozens of others with a similar narrative.
The first comes from Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC, which reported in 2014 that deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responding to an assault with a deadly weapon call mistook an innocent man for a suspect and shot and killed him. The victim’s name was John Winkler. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times notes, a $5 million settlement was paid to Winkler’s survivors.
The second case involves the shooting death of Daniel Leetin Shaver of Granbury, Texas. In 2016, police were responding to a report that a rifle had been pointed out the window of the hotel room Shaver was staying in. This time a body cam video of the fatal encounter is available. The relevant portion of the video begins at the 12:50 mark. (Warning: At 17:11, three shots are fired, killing the suspect. Some readers may find this difficult to watch.)
Following the shooting, police did find a “weapon” in the room, which is to say they found a pellet gun. The officer who fired the deadly rounds, Philip Brailsford, was charged with second-degree murder but was found not guilty by a jury.
The third case is that of Duncan Socrates Lemp of Montgomery County, Md., who in March of this year was fatally shot by police as he slept in his bedroom. According to the Associated Press via The Guardian, the police department initially reported that Lemp was shot and killed after “confronting” officers, but an attorney for the family said an eyewitness gave a “completely contrary” account of the shooting.
The final shooting occurred exactly one day before that of Duncan Lemp, but the details of it are so well known they need no summary. The story is about the accidental shooting death of Breonna Taylor, whose name has been in the national headlines and on signs like the one above carried by protesters ever since. Yesterday, a grand jury announced its findings. Only one of the three officers involved was indicted and that was only on charges of wanton endangerment. No murder or manslaughter charges were recommended, though last week the family of Taylor was awarded a $12 million wrongful death settlement.
But here is where the story of Breonna Taylor and those of the three other victims veer off in different directions. Following the deaths of John Winkler, Daniel Leetin Shaver, and Duncan Socrates Lemp, there were no riots in the street or calls for justice. As far as the public was concerned, justice had been served. Not so in the case of Breonna Taylor. Her family’s attorney, Ben Crump, spoke of the outrage of her being killed inside the sanctity of her own apartment. But Crump had nothing to say about Duncan Lemp, who died the day after Taylor while asleep in the sanctity of his bed.
Last night, two Louisville police officers were shot as they attempted to keep the peace in the streets of the city. No such shootings of police took place after the killings of Winkler, Shaver, and Lemp.
All of the shootings were brutal and tragic. No doubt the officer who fired the deadly shots in each case has had to grapple with his actions ever since. So what sets Taylor apart from the other three victims of police bullets? Here is her picture:
And here are snapshots of Winkler, Shaver, and Lemp: