For those following the story of John Crawford III, the Ohio man who was shot to death by police while holding a toy gun in a Walmart store earlier this month, an incident at a South Carolina Walmart provides a stark study in contrasts. Crawford was unarmed, save the air rifle he’d picked up from the store shelves and was reportedly pointing at the floor, and according to a family attorney who has seen surveillance video of the incident, police shot Crawford “on sight.”
Meanwhile, police in Greenville, South Carolina are taking heat over the amount of force they used to subdue Sandon Sierad, a 32 year-old white male who reportedly tried to steal a cash register, “terrorized” customers in the store, led police on a foot chase, and made three attempts to grab a deputy’s weapon. After he was repeatedly tased, and tried to pull the taser probes out, the deputies managed to cuff him, but only after they were caught on cellphone video putting a pretty excessive-looking (and meaty-sounding) beating on him:
The deputy seen punching Sandon has been placed on administrative leave, and his use of force is under investigation.
Of course, the biggest difference here is that Sandon Sierad is alive. Despite the fact that he initiated violent altercations with police, made several attempts to grab their weapons, and quite obviously resisted several levels of reasonable force, the deputies did not kill him, and don’t even appear to have drawn their guns. The level of force demonstrated in that video certainly does seem excessive, but in an interview with a local news station, even Sierad concedes that some level of force was called for, based on his actions:
While that beating does look excessive, I’m sure any police officer would respond that as long as the suspect’s hands are free, and he’s resisting, then the suspect is a threat to officers, particularly in close quarters where a weapon can be taken. What’s remarkable is that these officers go through several other levels of force, and even when the man is still arguably a threat o their lives, never seem to even contemplate using deadly force.
It’s remarkable because in so many other recent cases involving completely unarmed black men (and women), their mere existence is threat enough to draw deadly force, if not to justify it. Deadly force is not the end of the road for police encounters with black people, it is the on-ramp. After centuries of conditioning that black people are potential threats, it’s going to take mpre than some re-training and re-equipping to take care of this problem.