It’s really hard not to rush to judgment on the two Texas deputies who shot and killed a man with his hands up. Long distance cell phone video of last Friday’s interaction between Gilbert Flores and the Bexar County deputies shows Flores appearing to surrender. Shaun King from DailyKos wants the deputies arrested, while Sooper Mexican thinks the deputies are justified because dispatch audio says Flores wanted to commit “suicide by cop.” The shooting looks bad. It really does. But there are a ton of moving parts to this story and all the facts need to be looked at before passing judgment.
Sheriff Susan Pamerleau did confirm Flores’ hands were up just before the deputies opened fire. But Pamerleau also said Flores was holding what appeared to be a knife in his left hand. The problem is the video is shot from so far away, there’s no way to tell if this is true. A zoomed-in screenshot of Flores shows he might have had something in his left hand.
But the problem is the way he’s standing. It’s completely possible Flores didn’t have a knife, and was just stretching his hands out. In the released audio, dispatchers say Flores is trying to get into a patrol car but it doesn’t appear that way in the video. It does seem like he tries to get into a personal car, but the door was locked. After that Flores walks towards a squad car, but then walks back towards deputies after about three to four seconds with his arms spread out. He drops his arms, then put them back up. Deputies then open fire and kill him. There is an issue with the video because one of Flores’ arms is blocked by a telephone pole, so there’s no way of really knowing if Flores is carrying a weapon or what he does with his left hand.
One thing which is interesting is that one deputy is holding a plexiglass shield. That seems to go along with what dispatch and sources told San Antonio Express-News that Flores tried to attack a deputy with a knife. This part wasn’t captured on the cell phone video, but may eventually see the light of day because a second video of the confrontation exists. It’s shot from a much closer angle and shows more details as to what happened. This is fantastic news and hopefully will clear up a lot of questions.
The problem is the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office isn’t releasing the second video just yet. Pamerleau says it’s because the Texas Department of Public Safety is going to enhance it. This isn’t a bad idea, but Bexar County could have had a non-law enforcement film lab handle the footage. As Kolten Parker from Express-News pointed out on Twitter, DPS was accused of altering the Sandra Bland dash cam video, which is absolutely ridiculous because DPS didn’t. It still doesn’t mean Bexar County should have gone to DPS for help. The Sheriff’s Office could also make things easier by releasing the unenhanced video so people can get a look at it as well. They should also avoid condescending Facebook posts on the video, which doesn’t help the situation at all. It’s also odd Pamerleau didn’t answer whether weapon was recovered from the scene. She had been out of town, but returned to San Antonio Monday night. So you’d think that by then she would have been told by investigators whether a knife was recovered or not.
This is why the second video NEEDS to be released. It could show Flores was holding a knife and flinched his left wrist in a flicking motion. The video could also show Flores’ hands were empty and the deputies had no business shooting him. There’s also the possibility Flores did have a knife, but wasn’t doing anything else with it. If that’s the case, then it’s possible to start questioning whether deputies did the right thing by opening fire. Lucy Steigerwald at Vice wrote last year how London cops were able to take down a man with a machete without killing him (although a Taser should have been used in my own personal opinion). It’s possible the Texas deputies should have waited a couple more minutes for backup to arrive before shooting him. That way another deputy could have used a Taser and Flores wouldn’t be dead. But until the video is released, all people (including myself) can do is speculate which isn’t going to help anything.
The point is people need to be patient. There are times a police shooting looks completely justified, but isn’t. There are also times a police shooting looks unjustifiable, but ends up being justified. It’s just unfortunate most people seem to want to score cheap political points without waiting for all the facts. When people rush to judgment it only makes things worse. Look at what happened to Richard Jewell in the Atlanta bombing. He was considered some evil person, but turned out to be innocent. As the #BlackLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter crews keep crashing into each other on Twitter (which is going to happen), all it’s going to do is inflame things even more. A friend of mine asked if all of these police shootings were becoming more of a story because of how technology has changed. Cell phone cameras are almost everywhere, and people are willing to pull them out to film whatever crazy incident is going on. The advancement in technology is a good and bad thing. For one, it can be used to keep law enforcement accountable. The bad thing is there are people who are just going to jump to conclusions and hold onto their initial impression without even bothering to look at the entire situation. This really needs to stop, which is easier said than done.