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How Officers’ Response to the Dallas Police Headquarters Shooter Fuels Black Distrust of the Police

Early Saturday morning, 35-year-old James Boulware sprayed Dallas Police Headquarters with at least 30 rounds of bullets from an automatic weapon and a shotgun, striking the building and police vehicles, and planting numerous pipe bombs around the building’s perimeter.  During the attack, officers were, in the words of the Dallas Police Chief, “literally dodging bullets.”  After the shooting, Boulware lead a dozen squad cars on a chase down an expressway.  In an attempt to bring the chase to an end, officers first immobilized Boulware’s vehicle by shooting and disabling the engine.  Then they negotiated with him for more than four hours before electing to kill him with sniper fire.

This is precisely the way police should, and are trained to, handle dangerous situations. Officers attempted to de-escalate the situation by engaging with Boulware before resorting to lethal force. Then, only after hours of back and forth, did they opt to shoot him, after it became clear that he would not respond to calls to stand down.

This was good, cautious police work in action, even in the face of a man who had demonstrated that he was an incredible threat to officers’ well-being.

Had officers killed Boulware immediately, the decision would certainly have been understandable given the circumstances.  But they didn’t.  And it is instances like this that leave Black people in awe of the restraint with which officers can act when they choose to.  This kind of response is too often not what happens when police officers engage with people of color, especially Black people.

Officers shot Tamir Rice less than 2 seconds after arriving at the scene. They shot and killed John Crawford in a matter of seconds as well. Kajeime Powell was killed in a hail of bullets less than 15 seconds after officers arrived at the scene, after he lunged at them with a knife from feet away.  And officers killed Anthony Robinson after he became physically aggressive with them during a bipolar episode.

There is a stark contrast between the  hastiness with which police respond to Black people and the restraint with which they approach White people like James Boulware, or Dallas Horton who, in Oklahoma in January, shot a (Black) police chief three times in the chest (the officer’s bulletproof vest saved his life) as officers entered his home and was not arrested at all, or the dozens of biker gang members who were allowed to hang out outside the restaurant they had terrorized in Waco, Texas just minutes after their shootout had left nine people dead.

Too often police shoot to kill Black people as a first resort.  And time and again, in interactions with White suspects, they demonstrate that they don’t have to do that, that they do have alternative, non-lethal methods at their disposal.  James Boulware was killed, but only after hours of failed attempts at alternative methods, hours not afforded Tamir Rice, or John Crawford,  or Kajeime Powell, or countless other Black people killed by the police.  It is this contrast that fuels Black anger with, and distrust of, the police.

All Black people want is for police officers to treat us the same way they treat White people – to engage us with a reverence for human life and a hesitance towards taking it. Until we see and feel equitability in police treatment of Black people and White people, Black people will continue to distrust, dislike, and protest the police.  The contrast between officers’ response to Boulware and so many Black victims of police brutality is yet another example of why we do so now.

Brandon Ellington Patterson is an editorial fellow at Mother Jones Magazine in San Francisco, CA and a contributor to NBCBLK.  Follow him on Twitter at @myblackmindd and email him at bpatterson@motherjones.com.

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