Police shootings are rough on everyone involved. Obviously, they’re rough on whoever got shot, but they’re also difficult for the officer. Careers end because of even justified shoots simply because the officer can’t deal with the possibility of doing it again.
Now, imagine you’re an officer who has to shoot someone in what you’re sure is justified, only to find out they were unarmed.
A 37-year-old unarmed man fatally shot by San Francisco police earlier this month told officers to shoot him and that he had a second handgun in his jacket, officials said Monday at a town hall where they released more details and body-cam footage.
The attorney general’s office is investigating the Jan. 20 shooting at the San Francisco International Airport because the victim was unarmed. The San Francisco Police Department has been criticized for failing to disclose that the victim, Nelson Szeto, was carrying two airsoft replicas, which are not firearms.
It appears that police thought Szeto was armed although some callers into Monday’s town hall said it was clear he was in mental crisis. During the standoff, Szeto told officers to shoot him “center mass” and thanked them for their service, said SFPD Commander Paul Yep.
First, I want to point out that “mental crisis” doesn’t mean officers shouldn’t defend themselves. I’m really sick of people who think that someone who represents a threat to others should somehow get a pass because they’re mentally ill.
Mentally ill people can kill. We see it all the time. If it comes down to an officer trying to do his job or a mentally ill dangerous person, I’m going to pray the police officer is the one who comes out the other side of the confrontation.
But where things get difficult is that Szeto apparently dropped the firearm he had, but then claimed he had a second one and that it was loaded. He then went for it after police told him to remain still.
There was no other gun.
For the officers who fired, I can only imagine the second-guessing they’re probably doing right now, but they ultimately made the right decision. Yes, Szeto was simply having a mental crisis and didn’t represent an actual threat, but he tried to present himself as one.
Considering he actually thanked them for their service and told them to shoot center mass, this was clearly a case of suicide by cop.
I hate it for Szeto’s loved ones, who I’m sure are devastated by what happened, and I hate it for the officers who were forced to fire.
But from what we can tell, they really didn’t seem to have much of a choice. Yes, we can see in perfect hindsight that Szeto wasn’t a threat, just a guy in desperate need of help, but that’s thanks to the information we have now that the officers on the scene didn’t have.
Police have a rough job, one made all the rougher by people using them as an instrument of suicide like this.