We don’t yet have all the facts. All we have is what Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder told the Deseret News. But that alone should be enough to give anyone pause before piling on in what seems like a national obsession against police who use force.
Yes, a sheriff’s deputy shot the wrong man Friday night.
Apparently, 30-year-old Dustin Evans was just washing his car at the Rocket Express Car Wash in
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Midvale around 8:30 p.m. when a gunfight erupted between a man police say has a long record of violent crime and officer Cory Tsouras. Evans did what you probably would do in such a situation. He tried to run for cover back inside the car wash.
His mistake apparently was that he looked similar to the suspect, and he was running. It was dark. The officer reportedly shot him twice. He will recover, but that was uncertain for a while.
If you saw this on a cell phone video (and no such video exists, as far as I know), you might see a snippet that, like the proverbial blind man feeling the elephant, almost certainly wouldn’t provide a full picture. We, meaning anyone who wasn’t there, don’t have the full picture.
That, in a nutshell, explains the problem with this age of instant reaction, and with much of what we see and experience through social media. We need patience and facts, two things at odds with agendas and emotions.
Fortunately, the victim’s family has shown that kind of patience, which goes a long way toward staving off protests and pitchforks. That hasn’t often been the case in 2015.
Sheriff Winder provided some context to Saturday’s shooting. He said the real suspect, a man thought to have stolen a car, had just opened fire on officer Tsouras. “A round penetrated the windshield, penetrated the headrest directly behind our officer, struck the computer inside of the vehicle, and also a round entered our officer’s bullet-proof vest directly in his chest plate.”
Imagine yourself in that car, deadly bullets hitting virtually everything but your head. Then think back on the last time you thought you had a bad day at work.
Then consider how this carwash shooting happened against the backdrop of an America in which movie director Quentin Tarantino, less than a week earlier, showed up at a rally against police brutality and equated recent police actions with murder.
Or how it happened against the backdrop of a dramatic scene in a South Carolina schoolroom, where an officer dragged a defiant student across the floor. That troubling scene was captured by cell phone video. It led to the officer’s dismissal, but that didn’t end the arguing over who was at fault.
Or how it happened in the aftermath of Ferguson, Mo., and a host of other publicized police shootings nationwide.
In this year of discontent with policing, it’s a wonder anyone would willingly wear a badge and face these split-second life-or-death decisions, or the split-second scrutiny that often follows.
We don’t know yet whether officer Tsouras told the man he shot to stop running before he opened fire. We don’t know whether he felt other people might be endangered by what he thought was a fleeing man with a history of violence. We don’t know whether he had seen the suspect well enough to know whether Dustin Evans resembled him.
For that matter, we don’t know why violent crime seems to be on the rise in some large American cities this year, or whether it has anything to do with police becoming less aggressive in the wake of all the scrutiny, as FBI director James B. Comey has said.
What we do know is that police every day come face to face with criminals who act irrationally, and that some of them would rather fire several bullets into a squad car than face the possibility of charges for auto theft.
It is appropriate to question, to gather facts and to hold officers accountable to their training and the law. It is appropriate to look at patterns of abuse or harassment against ethnic or racial groups. It is appropriate to provide more resources for training and to demand a high standard of conduct.
But it is important, too, to trust that the system will provide those answers, and to avoid adding to this year of discontent until, and unless, we know the facts.