How Much of a Factor Is Race When Cops Kill? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Another reader joins in:

I just read Nick Selby’s contribution to the thread, and one thing that jumped out at me was him citing how many cops had been indicted on charges related to civilian shootings this year. This reminded me of the Randall Kerrick case in Charlotte, NC, where Kerrick was on trial for voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of the college student Jonathan Ferrell, who was black. In August, the judge in the case declared a mistrial, and they’re not going to seek to retry the case. (Just as a reminder, this was the case where Ferrell was in a bad car accident, knocked on a woman’s door, she called the police, and when he ran up to the police when they arrived, he was shot and killed.)

Although this is just one case, it complicates many of the elements Nick Selby refers to in order to argue against race being a factor in getting killed by the cops.

Here, a citizen made the call for the police and the officer was indicted, but it still looks pretty much like a racial killing to me. The local cops refused to indict originally, and Kerrick was only indicted when the state’s attorney general stepped in. And, ultimately, he wasn’t convicted. So, even when it may look like the cops aren’t at fault or were held accountable (didn’t initiate encounter, was indicted) you have to look at how race comes into play throughout. And from my perspective as a white Southerner, that picture is pretty damning.

As an aside, I was a loyal Dish reader and subscriber, and am loving this nascent Notes thing. Feels almost like the old days, minus Andrew of course.

I had dinner with him on Wednesday, and he said he was very glad he didn’t have to blog about Kim Davis’s pope visit. Regarding the Farrell case, the above dashcam footage was finally released in August, two full years after the killing. Here’s what you can’t see on camera, according to the cop’s attorney:

You see one of his hands partially behind his back, concealed as he ... continued to advance. He was given three commands to ‘Get on the ground. Get on the ground.’ He did not. And Officer Kerrick backed up and then felt the need to deploy his service weapon.

Jacob Sullum gives a fair, rigorous assessment of those details and more:

Prosecutors argue that Ferrell ran between the police cars because he was alarmed by the laser lights on his chest, which as far as he knew came from a firearm loaded with bullets instead of a stun gun loaded with barbed, electricity-delivering darts. They say he fell to the ground after Kerrick fired four rounds at him but that Kerrick, who also had fallen to the ground after stumbling in a ditch while walking backward, fired eight more rounds because Ferrell kept moving. Ten of the rounds struck Ferrell.

Ten. Ta-Nehisi wrote about the shooting at the time:

[T]he police chief makes the obvious point that not complying is not a good reason to try and kill someone. People do not comply for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they mean harm. But they also might not clearly hear you. They might be mentally disabled. Or--having just emerged from a car crash--they might be totally disoriented.

Having said that, it’s important to understand that, in America, it is broadly believed that police can--and perhaps should--kill people who do not comply with them. Roy Middleton was shot in his own driveway after a neighbor called the police on him, thinking he was a burglar breaking into a car. The car was Middleton’s. When the police arrived, they claim to have given Middleton orders to which he did not comply. Middleton thought it was neighbors playing a joke. The police claim he “lunged” at them. “It was like a firing squad,” Middleton told PNJ from his bed at Baptist Hospital. “Bullets were flying everywhere.”  The local sheriff doesn’t believe the police did anything wrong.  

There’s been some rage directed at the woman who called the police. I think this is wrong. You may believe racism is an actual force in our interactions--I certainly do--but you don’t know whether it was an actual force in this one. It’s important to recognize that this is both a woman and an individual. … Her reaction may not have been your reaction. But this woman is not paid by the State to keep the peace. Police officers are trained to deal with situations like this.