Law enforcement has a tough job. Some do it very well, threading the needle between being hardnosed and gentle as needed with such delicate care you have to believe they were called to the job by the Almighty himself. Other police officers, not so much.
However, most officers lie somewhere in between. They’re good people trying to do a difficult job and managing to make it through the day.
That doesn’t stop people from making judgement calls on what they do on a day-to-day basis, much less telling everyone how they could do it better, usually without any relevant experience.
Yet a shooting in Washington, DC illustrates just how difficult it can be to deal with some of the scariest situations.
Police in Washington, D.C. recently released body camera footage showing the fatal officer-involved shooting of a man who drew concern from neighbors after allegedly wielding a long gun on his balcony.
In footage released last week by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, officers responded to the 1400 block of V Street, Northwest around 6:55 p.m. on Aug. 31 “to investigate a report of an individual holding a long gun.” Neighbors reported seeing the man, since identified as 34-year-old George Watson, outside on his balcony with the weapon, Fox 5 DC reported.
Police said officers were directed to an apartment where they contacted Watson and made several attempts to speak with him and deescalate the situation. Watson went back inside the apartment, and as officers assessed the situation, returned with “what appeared to be a long gun,” the department said. An officer on scene discharged a firearm, striking Watson.
After securing the apartment, officers began life saving efforts until D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services arrived and transported Watson to the hospital, where “after all life-saving efforts failed,” he was pronounced dead.
On the footage, you can see the man coming to the door several times and doesn’t seem to be completely with it during the encounter. One officer wondered if he was having some kind of a mental health episode.
However, he was also armed. When he came out with a gun, officers fired and eliminated the threat.
Now, some will likely take this to be some kind of evidence the police should have gotten a social worker or someone else to deal with someone who may have been having a mental health crisis. Yet the video shows us that this wasn’t a particularly long encounter. There wasn’t really time.
Further, to those who still think a social worker or someone should have been there, I have to ask what they have against social workers. I mean, this is a dangerous encounter. Police responded to a report of a man pointing a rifle out of a window. They knew he was armed and had every reason to believe he was dangerous. They, at least, had weapons with which to respond to a violent attack. What would the social worker have? Hugs?
No, a social worker may well have gotten killed in such a situation.
Look, no one has to think the police always get it right. They don’t. And when they screw up and someone dies, they need to be held accountable, just like any of us would.
On the flip side, though, some people need to get it through their heads that the police aren’t automatically the bad guy and every shooting isn’t a hate crime. Sometimes, there’s just no choice, even if they think someone is having a mental health crisis, there’s just no choice.
While someone being mentally ill doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a threat, it also doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not one, either.
The officers in this case did what they had to do. Will some people learn the lessons from this, though? Probably not.