An idea that keeps floating around is that had Daunte Wright just not resisted, he would still be alive today, and I do believe that is largely true. However, there is some much-needed social, emotional, and historic context that is needed to understand moments like these.
I do not believe in the idea of systemic racism, that our entire justice system was built on racism and is therefore always going to be racist until it is torn down and rebuilt. I don’t like painting with such broad strokes, and I don’t think it’s fair to the vast number of good police officers and law enforcement agencies out there. But, there is a deeply ingrained fear of interactions with law enforcement based on the historical and personal experiences of many in black communities. There are more than enough stories out there about the horrors of abusive law enforcement not just during the eras of slavery or Jim Crow, but even in the modern era.
One of the concepts people who defend police in questionable shootings jump to is the idea that these situations are incredibly tense for the officer, and one second of hesitation could be the difference between life and death for the officer. And, no doubt, this is very true, especially at a time when law enforcement is receiving so much criticism from politicians, activists, and even the media. However, police are trained. They are supposed to know how to react in a calm and collected manner in these tense situations.
But, just as tense as police officers’ jobs are, especially now, you also have black men who see the news coverage, who get defensive when in these tense situations, but — most importantly — are not trained to remain calm and collected. They are, at times, not totally equipped to deal with what can quickly become a hostile situation. They may rationally understand that they need to not resist, but in the heat of the moment, fear can be a more powerful guiding force than rationality.
There is a massive cultural gap between law enforcement and members of the black community, and at a time when both need each other, they could not be further apart. This, in turn, promotes that level of distrust that makes one group more likely to pull a gun and the other more likely to get defensive and resist. That is a gap that has to be bridged, but current societal divisions make that very difficult.
At the same time as all of this, however, there also needs to be one key understanding: Just because a person resists does not mean a police officer has free rein to take a life. We have got to do better at moving to defuse a situation quickly and promote understanding rather than giving in to the intensity of the moment and making a decision that costs a life.