On Tuesday night in my hometown of Beavercreek, Ohio, a man was shot dead by police in a Walmart after calls were made to police reporting a man waving a gun around. The story of a mad gunman could end there as simply another incident of crazed people in the United States using guns to threaten and frighten innocent people. However, our story here, as is usually the case, is not quite so simple.
I don’t think the major issue here is guns. The issue here is the overreach of the police, which as far as I can tell is rather obvious. Ohio is an open-carry state, meaning that all citizens are allowed to openly carry firearms in public. If a person wants carry a concealed weapon, they must receive a license to do so from the state. As long as our suspect was not using his weapon in a way that was threatening, then he was breaking no law. Police, at the time I write this, have refused to answer questions. Of all the 911 calls placed and the surveillance at the store, only a single call has been released, made by an ex-marine who claims that Crawford was messing with the gun and waving it around. Police arrived on the scene and ordered Crawford to put the gun down. At this, reports say he said, “It’s not real,” and did not put the gun down. They shot him dead. Some witnesses offer that police gave him one more order to put the gun down.
Something about the story seemed fishy to me as I read preliminary reports Tuesday night. I am always skeptical of reporting when the people reporting an incident (police) are the people whose reputation is on the line. All information from the crime scene has been closely controlled. The only significant piece of data we have heard since is that the gun was apparently not real, as Crawford stated. It was a BB air rifle picked up from the sporting goods department in the store. As I stated, we have not been able to see any video surveillance, nor have we heard from any witnesses apart from the family of Crawford and the ex-marine who made the phone call.
I should not have to point out that the fact of the matter is that all the evidence available here that might help to show that the homicide here is in fact justified is being presented by the executive branch or a person who is a former employee of the executive branch. Moreover, these individuals should have been familiar enough with weaponry to at least notice that the gun was merely a BB gun when they heard him state that the weapon was not real, even if they had not noticed before. The ex-marine when he saw Crawford messing with the gun could easily have surmised that the gun is only a BB gun.
With the evidence that has been released to date, it seems we have only three conclusions that we can draw: the police acted irresponsibly, maliciously, or they are incompetent. Either the police were trigger-happy and did not weigh the situation with professionalism, they recognized the BB gun and chose to use lethal force without a justifiable threat, or they simply did not recognize the gun as a BB gun and acted as amateurs. These are not comforting possibilities, especially as we are nearing a week without additional release of evidence.
What do I think here? I am not sure. I generally prefer to use Hanlon’s razor, so for now I will wait for evidence to come around. Beavercreek is a largely peaceful, nonviolent community. Active shooter situations simply do not happen, and I am not surprised that police with weapons they rarely get to use acted too aggressively out of incompetence. Police are people just like you and I, but a uniform and a title can change a person. They ought to be held accountable, and even if they did act incompetently, they should not be given a pass simply because they are authority figures. Authority is an imaginary power we vest into certain people for certain reasons. Abuse of that authority, whether malicious or accidental, should not be tolerated. Authority has no greater right than you or I to kill a man. If the police know that a person is not a threat (i.e. is merely playing with a BB gun [however stupid that might be]), lethal force is not morally or legally justified.