Imagine you’re a white police officer and you’ve been called to a scene. When you arrive, you’re greeted by a black man with a gun in his hand. The man is shouting obscenities as you try to order him to drop the weapon. Your eyes become laser focused on the gun, your finger on the trigger waiting to pull as you try to anticipate the man’s next move. You tell him to drop it once more. You try to observe the whole man, his face, his body posture, but your internal survival instinct ensures that your focus remains on his gun which he’s holding steadfastly by his side.
In those moments your mind becomes bombarded with all the news stories over the last few years. Your thoughts turn to all the white police officers who’ve been put on leave, faced questioning by internal and external investigations, come under intense media scrutiny, and faced the possibility of doing major time in prison for murder.
Then you think of your wife and your kids and what could happen in the next few moments. Will they have a husband and father facing all the things the other officers went through? Could it be even worse? Then thoughts turn to the cases that got less media attention. The cases where police officers have been killed in the line of duty, some of them reluctant to pull the trigger, some perhaps because they feared the consequences of having white skin while facing down a man with darker skin.
You bark out your order once more. As you point the gun at his torso, you begin to feel your hands trembling. In the game of gun tennis, it’s impossible to discern whose court the bullet is in. You could take it upon yourself to make the shot. You could wait. You decide to tell him to drop his weapon yet again.
You’ve heard it constantly said that you’re trigger happy. You’ve been made guilty by association with your colleagues. You’ve been told that as a white policeman, you love nothing more than going after black men, to humiliate them, arrest them for trivial matters, and in some cases, to end their life.
But you’ve never felt that way. You’ve always tried to do the best you can, to be a fair and reasonable person and to carry out your duties responsibly. The color of your skin never mattered. The color of the skin of the people you’ve dealt with in the line of work never mattered. Until now.
Your mind wanders as you call on him again to drop the gun. What if this was a white man with a gun? You could shoot him right now. He would probably die. It would make the local news but that would be it. No cries of a racist cop killing yet another black man. No probing by the media. No hatred or death threats coming your way. You will say you did everything you could but were left with no choice. You would have to deal with the mental consequences of killing another man but you could do so in relative privacy.
But that’s just a fanciful thought. Your mind returns to reality. The man standing twenty feet from you is certainly not white. He stands there with his black hand still clinging to his gun. It’s dead still, unflinching. Your words have been ignored.
You decide to give him one last verbal order. You make it clear that it’s the last warning he’s going to get. Then you start praying. You start wishing. You wish that the next event will be the man dropping his gun. You want so desperately your eyes to send images to your brain of his gun dropping to the ground by his feet.
But that’s not what happens. Instead, you watch as the gun moves up and begins changing angle. The short barrel is starting to point at you. Your heart tries to explode out of your chest as you squeeze your trigger. Your eyes close as you feel the recoil and hear the loud bang. You open your eyes again less than a second later. You watch as the man falls to the ground in what looks like slow motion. Then, silence.
Your hands drop slowly. You stare momentarily at the black man, his body lying on the ground in an awkward looking position. The blood drains from your head. You feel a shiver. You realize you just did the last thing you wanted to do. Or was it the last thing? Perhaps not. Perhaps shooting a black man wasn’t the last thing you wanted to do, after all.
If it wasn’t that, then what was the last thing you wanted to do? Just before you run to the black man, now forever portrayed as a victim in the eyes of the politicians and the media and all the cop haters, you realize the last thing you wanted to do. The last thing you wanted to do was to stand there and allow your wife to become a widow, your kids to grow up without a father, another cop killed in the line of duty, another cold statistic.
You chose to live, the man you just shot chose to die.