The first thing to remember is that someone is dead
I’m sitting in the newsroom of The Herald News on Tuesday afternoon, chewing on the stem of an unlit pipe, trying to get out ahead of whatever will happen with Monday morning’s shooting up in the Industrial Park.
I don’t want to pick a side too fast, and I hope you don’t, either.
The first thing to remember is that someone is dead. Dead.
This is not a movie. This is not a video game. In real life, dead people stay dead. They do not come back to life when you start the game over. They do not return to life if you go back to the beginning of the movie. In real life, we bury the dead, and they are gone forever.
Don’t be too quick to take the side of the man who was shot and killed by a Fall River police officer. It may make you feel “gangsta” to assume the officer was wrong, but it doesn’t make you right.
If you consider yourself to be a conservative, someone who supports our police officers because they risk their lives every day, don’t be quick to applaud the officer’s actions in advance of the facts. A badge isn’t meant to shield a murderer.
If you consider yourself to be a liberal, someone who says police officers shoot too quick, don’t be quick to assume the officer is a murderer. A heart beats under every badge.
The dead man was named Larry Ruiz-Barreto. That’s a Hispanic name.
If you are Hispanic, give justice time to work.
If you are non-Hispanic, give justice time to work.
If you are a gun owner, don’t defend a shooting because it was done with a gun. This isn’t about you. If you are a strong believer in gun control, don’t use this as an excuse to advance your own views. This isn’t about you.
Wait for facts. When you have them, by all means agree or disagree with how those facts are interpreted by the police department and the courts. Americans have the unquestioned right to an opinion. You don’t have to agree with authority to be a good American, either.
Remember that police officers have immense discretionary power over the lives of others, most notably over the lives of the poor, with whom they interact often. You don’t serve the interests of justice by guessing at the victim’s thoughts and feelings.
What we expect of police officers is that, in life threatening situations, their training will override their emotions, including anger and fear. That’s a lot to expect. An old doctor once told me, “Doctors make mistakes and barbers make mistakes, but when your barber gives you a bad haircut, it doesn’t kill you.” Police officers are in the same situation as doctors.
Despite the fact that a number of buildings in town have elevators, Fall River remains a small town in the most frustrating ways. This story would have a lot more legs if the victim was from Fall River and named “Souza” or “Maltais.” I can tell you that’s wrong, but a newspaper columnist isn’t a preacher, not most of the time. And this isn’t about me.
Terminology is important, too. “Officer-involved shooting” lets us slide out from under the fact that this is a death, that it is a dead person, a dead young man. “Deadly force” does the same thing. Talking like a cop doesn’t make you a cop, either. Better to say, “shot,” or “killed” or “dead,” since those words are much closer to what happened.
Nobody’s getting out of this without losing something. There’s a dead man, who will not be coming back, and his family, who have lost him forever, and there is an officer who fired the shots that killed him. Plenty of police officers find that killing someone begins a descent into depression, or drugs, or excessive drinking. Others go to still darker places. Some of them are lost forever.
I read as much for knowledge as I do for entertainment, and, as I wrote this column, I kept thinking of a quote from Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.”
It may be a light quote for a deadly serious matter, but it fits. Twisting facts to suit theories (or political beliefs) has become the national hobby, and nothing provokes twisting facts to suit theories more than a police officer killing someone.
Wait for the facts. Demand the facts. Judge carefully