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Are all police confrontations equal? We need to question justifications for the Blevins shooting

Revolution starts in the mind. Question everything!

— Bryant McGill

The Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) body camera footage from the officer-involved fatal shooting of Thurman Blevins as well as the Hennepin County Attorney’s announcement not to charge the officers have gone viral across our country.

Most of the media coverage and commentary have centered on two factors: Blevins had a gun and ran despite being ordered to stop by police. For some people, those two factors justify the shooting of Thurman Blevins. That does not hold true for me and many others. 

Rather than accept the situation as a “given,” I question whether other similarly situated police encounters are treated the same.

MPD officers readily informed the public that they “feared for their lives” as a justification for shooting Blevins. Yet, there are plenty of examples where guns are drawn at police and either police don’t fear for their lives enough to shoot the suspect or they shoot but don’t kill the suspect. 

Man with shotgun in St. Paul

For example, less than a month after Thurman Blevins was shot, Dustin Allen Bilderback had an altercation with two officers in South St. Paul, where he pulled a shotgun and fired at the officers. The officers returned fire but did not strike Bilderback. One officer was shot in the shoulder, the other officer was shot in the leg. Bilderback eventually dropped the shotgun and was taken into custody – alive.

Man with Molotov cocktails in Eaton, Pennsylvania

Last week in Easton, Pennsylvania, a suspect pushed an air conditioner out of a second floor window aimed at police, fired a shotgun at police, threw Molotov cocktails at the police officers, started a fire during a two-hour standoff and walked toward the police with a 16-inch machete in his hand. The suspect refused to drop the machete so police used a stun gun and arrested him without injuries – alive.

Bundy family standoff

Who could forget the militia standoff, which lasted over a month in Oregon, wherein the Bundy family and activists pointed their guns at law enforcement day in and day out? All walked away uninjured – alive.

Role of race

Unlike the aforementioned examples with guns pointed at police, Blevins was running away from police when he was shot multiple times in the back. 

Luz María Frías
Photo by Maricris Treuenfels
Luz María Frías

Pundits argue that Blevins should have heeded police commands to stop running. My question is: Do any of these pundits carry the weight of living while Black in America? Have they been racially profiled while shopping? While driving? While trying to barbecue in a park? The list goes on. … What role does racial profiling play?

Running does not equal guilt 

In 2016, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that black men who attempt to avoid a police encounter by running from the scene may have a legitimate reason – to avoid being racially profiled. The fact that a black man flees from police does not equate with guilt. Perhaps, like Blevins, they are running to avoid being a victim of racial profiling.

These are but a few examples that are intended to prompt each other to question what we’re hearing, seeing or reading. The more we ask ourselves questions, the more we grow and understand the plight of others.

Luz María Frías is the president and CEO of YWCA Minneapolis, responsible for leading the strategy and operations of the organization’s five areas of commitment to the community: Racial Justice, Public Policy, Health and Wellness, Early Childhood Education, and Girls and Youth programs. This was originally published on the YWCA Minneapolis blog.

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Comments (13)

Bundy standoff

Actually someone was killed in the Bundy standoff in Oregon. LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police while reaching into his jacket for his gun.

Bundy

“All walked away uninjured - alive”

Except the guy who the police shot and killed.

Question for Minnpost: do you do any fact-checking of these kinds of pieces? This isn’t misleading or cherry-picking. Its a statement that is objectively false. Are you going to add a correction to the story?

No

He wasn't shot at the standoff, he was shot after leaving the standoff site.

Actually, Yes.

The point that she was trying to make was that that black criminals get shot while white criminals get arrested. Except that the white criminal got shot, not arrested in the example she gave. Trying to make a distinction between him getting shot and at the standoff or as he was leaving the standoff doesn’t change that she got the basic facts and the whole point of the example wrong.

yes yes, but ....

The author made a factual error asserting no one died during the Bundy disaster. There were dozens of armed whites who menaced law enforcement during that incident. Just one died, for pulling a gun instead of submitting to police authority. All the others made it out alive.

There is more than one example the author advanced where egregious perp conduct did not result in their deaths. One factual error on her part does not cancel out those other observations.

In the case at hand, the perp was running away from police. That should not be seen as a threat to those police. Maybe others in the vicinity, but deadly force should be applied only with imminent risk to the officer(s) or others.

That people of color suffer higher injury rates than whites interacting with police is not in question any more. The question is, how do we do better, to ensure public safety, including that of our police and the communities they serve?

Nope

The examples she used were already cherry-picked. That one of her examples was factually incorrect demonstrates how poorly written this piece is.

And are you going with “just one died?” Just one died in this case. Just one died in the Philando case. Just one died in the Clark case. In the Damond case. Seriously.

I would disagree that a man who was reported shootinng a gun seen running away with a gun is not an imminent threat to the police and other people. And it turns out that he was a violent felon committing multiple additional felonies that day by possessing and shooting the gun.

I agree that people of color are treated differenly and with more force by police. There is plenty of evidence for that. This case just isn’t part of that evidence.

How do we fix the problem? Start by being honest about the incidents. Start by making facts matter. This piece failed in that regard, and that’s why it contributes nothing to the discussion.

training & procedures

It seems to me that the other missing piece in all of this, is a need to reevaluate training and procedure.
If there is an industrial accident, we investigate and make changes to stop that from happening again. Air travel is now incredibly safe- in part because lessons learned from prior accidents are put into place to stop those from repeating. Thurman Blevins gets shot and killed and all the MPD says is that "procedures were followed."

Instead of writing off the death of a civilian as proper procedure, what are MPD and the city doing to take stock of all the factors that lead up to the death, and determine if there would have been a better way to do things? Is anyone in the city or MPD asking if their procedures are state of the art? or if their procedures are actually furthering the goals of the city? (how does protect & serve tie in to our police procedures)

We'll never know if this was an unavoidable shooting if we don't ask the hard questions.

cherry picking

I'm not sure that cherry picking examples of where white men were very fortunate to be arrested alive after firing at police, then comparing that to the Thurman Blevins case is the most productive method of conversation. If I cherry pick the Justine Damond case and compare it to the Stillwater inmate's case, does that prove anything? Are you saying that if Bilderback were black, the cops would have had better aim?

Cherry picking

The cherry picking isn’t just the incidents cited, but also the facts from those incidents. Missing from the description of the incident is that Blevins was walking around shooting the gun and the police were responding to that. Although the police didn’t know it when they showed up, Blevins was a convicted felon barred from having a gun. This wasn’t an innocent guy. This was a guy who has committed multiple additional felonies that day.

Well...

If I am a cop, and I am chasing a verified suspect with a gun who has discharged the gun before I arrived and after I started my chase and he refuses to stop or drop the weapon it would seem to me that we need to allow the cop to use their judgement in the heat of the moment.

That said:

1. Their should and will be an investigation.
2. "Proper procedures" should be examined and updated to reflect best practices in all incidents.

My impression is that MPD Officers are battle weary and contemptuous of their management, the people they are policing and, in general, the citizens of Minneapolis. A problem not easily resolved. One step would be to require them to live in Minneapolis. It is too convenient to take a cop with a bad attitude and allow them to escape to Maple Grove at the end of every shift where they can agree with many of their neighbors that much of the city is a cesspool to be avoided. They deserve to be fairly compensated with favorable benefits; but, they should know from their date of hire: "This is your city, you work here, you live here, you are key to making it better, you own it".

This will slow down the hiring of cops who take an MPD job because of superior money and/or a fast paced environment where the action is. And for some cops that action is beating people up whether they deserve it or not.

I’m convinced that blacks get

I’m convinced that blacks get treated with a harder edge by police.

But if I’m going to be convinced it’s not warranted by the situation on the street, they’re going to need to find a better example than Blevins to highlight.

Straw man

"Most of the media coverage and commentary have centered on two factors: Blevins had a gun and ran despite being ordered to stop by police. For some people, those two factors justify the shooting of Thurman Blevins. "

I don't think that having a gun and running from the police justifies the shooting. He wasn't shot because he ran, he was shot because of what happened while he was running.

Yes, we should always ask questions when police kill

We should always ask questions and investigate police killings and shootings, but answers aren't predetermined, some shootings will be justified.

I believe that police training is killing people who should not be killed, I don't think there's any question about that. When: "I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6" is a universal motto of law enforcement you basically have a shoot first and ask questions later policy. The practice of turning every encounter into a bizarre "Simon says... or I'll kill" scenario is to my mind... insane, yet we see it time after time. Of course racism, both institutional AND personal is getting more black male suspects shot and killed, although not exclusively. Skin color alone cannot determine every case.

None of this means that everyone who gets shot and killed by the police is a hero, or a victim and I think it's important to make those distinctions. When we fail to make distinctions it damages credibility and promotes unnecessary divisiveness. You may be able to find different scenarios where lethal force was avoided, the those will always be DIFFERENT scenarios, so the value of comparisons is limited. Sure, the Blevins scenario could have ended differently, for instance in a fraction of second he could fired his gun again sending a bullet straight through a garage wall into the head of a child getting ready to go for a bike ride. In THAT scenario would we not be demanding to know why the police didn't shoot an obvious threat BEFORE that happened?