Originally published June 20, 2015
I’m willing to let this one go.
Earlier this month, Louisville Metro Police Officer Nathan Blanford shot Deng Manyoun, a Sudanese refugee, after Manyoun attacked him with a flag pole. Though I do believe, can envision, can imagine, there were ways to apprehend Manyoun without the use of a gun, I’m willing to imagine what the officer experienced in that moment, in those 45 seconds that demonstrate just how quickly our brain processes the information we have available to us at the moment—and the information that’s been fed to us that we carry unawares.
I have been called to the scene of an assault. My brain is reminding me: someone else already has established that this man, this very tall black man, is violent.
He is stumbling around. He is obviously drunk. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. The danger is heightened.
I try to talk him down, but he’s either ignoring me or he’s too drunk to care. (We later learn that Deng Manyoun spoke very little English and used an interpreter in court.) My verbal attempts aren’t working.
He’s walking away, but he’s still a suspect in an assault, so I follow. He’s reaching for something. I reach for something. I draw my gun. He has a—
Duck and dodge the pole coming towards my head.
Am I hit? I’m not hit.
He falls down to the ground. What now? If I put my weapon back in its holster and he gets up, it could be too late to reach for the taser or the baton. He’s drunk. He’s violent. He already didn’t listen to reason …
I haven’t watched the moment the shots were fired, because I don’t want to. As prevalent as violence is on fictional television shows and in movies, I won’t delude myself into believing it has no effect on me. So I don’t know if Manyoun got up or attempted to retrieve the flag pole and hit the officer again after he was on the ground. I don’t know if he reached into his pocket and the officer believed he had a gun. I don’t know if the officer fired in a way that he thought would stop the threat but not be lethal. I don’t know if he Manyoun’s vital organs were so messed up from years of civil war, trauma, refugee life, homelessness, alcoholism, and stints in jail that even a taser would have killed him. Had the woman he assaulted been a different woman, she might have killed him before the police arrived. Had he survived his encounter with the police, Manyoun still would have been very likely to meet a violent end.
I concede that the trauma, hurt, and rage I justifiably feel when I see—every time I see—to quote a friend, a bikini-clad 15-year-old girl in whom I see myself “lie face down in the dirt with the violence of an institution on her neck,” while an armed, suspected terrorist who is nothing like me is apprehended unscathed, may have led me to jump to conclusions regarding this particular shooting. I concede that my knowledge of systemic racism, implicit bias, white privilege, the hardships of immigrants, the narratives of black people as super-human in strength and of blackness as subhuman and something to be feared—images I, too, have internalized—and the history of white supremacy in this country is at work when I hear news that a person of color has died at the hands of police.
But I reserve the right to have compassion. Even before I knew Manyoun’s backstory as a “Lost Boy of Sudan” and the trauma he likely experienced fleeing the country’s civil war, I knew that law enforcement often looks like terrorism in war-torn countries, and that he may have been reacting to that. While I knew he was accused of violence against women, I believe he had the right to be arrested and tried for his crimes, not killed for them.
I also reserve the right to ask questions, especially of the people I pay out of the money I work hard to earn. No employee can walk into the office of the person who pays them, call that person a liar, question that person’s integrity, and threaten that person—bluntly or in tone—and expect to have a job, let alone a civil working relationship. And the people who are given guns and other weapons, and who have been entrusted to take care of us, our families, our friends, and our communities must be held to higher standard. They must be open to citizen review, to intellectual discussion, and to honest and constructive dialogue and critique. They must be held accountable, and accountability is something River City FOP 614 president—and any union members who approved of him sending his open letter—clearly does not fear.
You cannot care for your enemies. A house divided against itself cannot stand.