Yesterday evening the Columbus (OH) Police Department responded to an armed robbery call near East Broad and 18th streets. Three suspects had approached a man and demanded money from him, at gunpoint. The caller was able to provide a detailed description of the three suspects. A nine-year veteran of the department responded to the scene within minutes, and located three suspects matching the description of the men the caller reported on nearby Hoffman Street.
Two of the three suspects ran into a nearby alley.
One of the two suspects then reportedly drew a gun equipped with a laser sight from his waistband. The officer saw the gun and engaged the armed suspect.
Officers had initially been called to the area of East Broad and 18th streets on an armed robbery call, according to Sgt. Rich Weiner, spokesman for the Columbus Division of Police.
The robbery victim told officers several young men approached him, one with a gun, demanding money, police said.
Officers approached three males on nearby Hoffman Street, two of whom fled on foot to the alley off East Capitol Street, police said.
[Suspect Tyree] King, who was one of those fleeing, pulled what police later determined to be a BB gun with an attached laser sight from his waistband. An officer then shot King, police said.
The officer and the other young male with King were not injured.
At City Hall at 11, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, Police Chief Kim Jacobs and Public Safety Director Ned Pettus are scheduled to speak about the shooting.
A man who lives in the area, Chris Naderer of Hoffman Avenue, said he was in his home when he heard someone knock down a gate in his backyard. He looked outside to see a police officer chasing two young men into an alley behind his home. He said he then heard three to five gunshots from the alley.
There is nothing at all remarkable about this story.
In a nation of 320 million people, there are several hundred officer involved shootings of armed suspects every year.
Only two things about this particular story stand out in the slightest.
The first is that the robbery suspects in this case used either a BB gun or an airsoft gun as their weapon.
Which of the three guns below is a real, bullet-firing handgun?
None of them are.
The pistols on the top and bottom are BB guns equipped with lasers similar to the one recovered from the body of 13 year-old suspect Tyree King last night. They are commonly sold in stores and online for less than $60. The realistic gun in the middle is one that might be familiar to you. That is the exact gun recovered from Tamir Rice, the 5’7″, 195 lbs assault suspect shot and killed as he attempted to draw a gun from his pants—on camera—in Cleveland on November 22, 2014.
Airsoft and BB guns are commonly used by criminals to commit armed robbery because they are very realistic. Even in perfect lighting when held perfectly still, trained experts have a very difficult time discerning a real handgun from a BB or airsoft gun. They are made to the same scale, have the same controls, and typically are operated by a user the exact same way. The only difference to someone being threatened by these realistic replicas is that they don’t fire large lead bullets.
Sadly, Tyree King’s age isn’t that surprising either.
The sad reality of our times is that violent culture is celebrated in music, music videos, video games, in television, and in movies, and that this popularized culture is then reflected as acceptable behavior in some of our neighborhoods. It is sadly not uncommon to see teens and pre-teens pressured to join street gangs. There are cold-blooded killers in cities at King’s age, or even younger.
Law enforcement officers such as the nine-year-veteran who pursued Tyree King don’t have the luxury of omniscience. They cannot know if the gun pulled by a suspect is real or fake. They cannot know the age or intent of the suspect pulling the weapon.
All that an officer can do is react to the situation, and the correct response of an officer to a fleeing suspect pulling a gun is to raise, aim, and fire your own gun at the center of exposed mass of the suspect until he is no longer a threat because he or she either chooses to stop fighting (surrenders), or is forced to stop fighting (is wounded and can no longer use the weapon against the officer, nearby bystanders, and other potential victims).
If it is accurate that Tyree King pulled a realistic weapon when being pursued by police, then any shots fired at him by a pursuing officer is Tyree King’s fault, and his fault alone, as long as he presents himself as a threat.
There are already the “usual suspects” asserting that the officer should have been able to tell a realistic BB gun from a real gun, asserting that a teen can’t be a threat despite thousands of violent crimes committed every year by young men in his age group, and that law enforcement officers should “shoot to wound.”
That simply isn’t realistic, folks.
It isn’t even sane.
When someone pulls a realistic weapon on another human being, they are committing assault with a deadly weapon, and that justifies the use of deadly force in response.
If Tyree King did in fact pull a realistic firearm while the officer was pursuing him, then shooting at Tyree King until he was no longer a threat is the only rational response.
If you want to find a scapegoat for this death, don’t look at the Columbus Police.
Look at Tyree King, the parents and friends who failed to teach him right from wrong, and a violent subculture that educated him to believe it is acceptable to use violence as a tool for profit.