We all remember “Hands up, don’t shoot.” That was the phrase popularized after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It was shorthand for a collection of beliefs about his death, i.e. he was an unarmed black man murdered by a racist cop while trying to surrender. Michael Brown became exhibit A for Black Lives Matter, a worst-case scenario demonstrating white supremacy and everything wrong with the system. There were marches held around the country with people chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Lawmakers, football players, and media commentators got on the bandwagon, raising their hands in surrender as a sign of solidarity with the struggle.
— OpposingViews (@OpposingViews) December 3, 2014
Three years ago today, 5 St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) players did a Hands Up, Don't Shoot pose that drew a lot of heat and applause in their 52-0 win over the Oakland Raiders. #Ferguson #STLRams pic.twitter.com/tqAvYIH5Al
— Justin Gibson (@JGibsonDem) November 30, 2017
But most of the story about Mike Brown wasn’t true. He was unarmed, but only because he lost a wrestling match inside an officer’s car for his gun. He was not shot in the back while running away. He was not on his knees when shot. He did not raise his hands in surrender. In fact, the evidence suggests he turned and charged. After a DOJ report confirmed all of this, there were some commentators who stated the obvious but many people still believe Mike Brown’s death is ultimately the result of racism.
But there was a real “hands up, don’t shoot” police killing. We know because we saw it all on video. In his final moments, Daniel Shaver of Granbury, Texas was doing all the things that Michael Brown did not do. He was on his knees. He was begging for his life. He had his hands raised in surrender. And in the end, police shot and killed the father of two anyway when, while crawling across a hotel hallway, he reached back for just an instant to pull up his shorts. Again, all of this was caught on video and, despite this, the officer who shot him was acquitted.
Here’s the really significant part of this story: Daniel Shaver was white.
There are probably many lessons that can be drawn from this but here are two of the most significant ones. First, there are problems with our policing which are not about race. Three years of Black Lives Matter talking points has convinced a lot of people that race is the secret key to understanding all of our policing problems, especially the shooting of unarmed men. But the Shaver case shows that’s not a sufficient explanation. Shaver was white. His skin color didn’t protect him and it didn’t guarantee a just result from the jury either. The lesson is so stark that even Deray McKesson noticed:
We talk about the disproportionate violence of the police towards people of color because it’s true. It’s also true that the police kill white citizens too. Police violence is everyone’s problem. #DanielShaver should be alive.
— deray (@deray) December 11, 2017
He makes a good point about this being everyone’s problem, but I think we all know what Deray (and Al Sharpton, etc.) would have been saying about this case if Daniel Shaver had been black. He would not have been saying this was an example of a policing problem that transcended the race of the officer and the victim. Instead, he would have been whipping up an outraged mob to protest another racist cop. He would have directed people, as he’s done before, to the wrong explanation.
What the Shaver case demonstrates is that Black Lives Matter, with its focus on the race of the victims, may be obscuring as much as it’s revealing. The actual problem that leads to a few dozen shootings like this each year may not be primarily about race. It certainly isn’t exclusively about race. If it was, Daniel Shaver would be alive.
Second, because the activists and the media are only primed to respond to these incidents when the victims are black, the response to this shooting has been muted by comparison. There are no marches, no rallies, no football players and media commentators holding their hands up for the cameras. This isn’t part of a cause, it’s just an isolated outrage.
And that’s not a good thing, because that video shows a man being terrorized and murdered by an armed and armored police officer. This is everything the Michael Brown case was claimed to be but actually wasn’t. Daniel Shaver wasn’t a terrorist hiding in his lair. He was an exterminator in a hotel room with his wife who’d had a couple drinks. If police can shoot him dead on video and face no consequences, they can kill any of us.
Maybe “hands up, don’t shoot” should make a comeback, this time with the added benefit that it actually happened. To get there, we’ll have to deprogram ourselves from years of BLM talking points and accept that we have some policing problems that are not primarily about race.
The consequences of failing to address the real problem are stark. Shaver’s widow tells CBS that one of his daughters tried to choke herself at school, explaining that she wanted to be with her father. She is now psychiatric care: