In Springfield, MO, a panhandler in a Walmart parking lot, Eric David Butts, was confronted by a police officer, Jason Schuck. Butts turned to run away and Schuck drew his weapon and shot him in the back. Later, he claimed that he was reaching for his taser, which may in fact be true. In America, it’s normal to send tens of thousands of volts through a non-violent man running away from confrontation.
Here’s what Digby says:
Honestly, the shooting in the back is a terrible thing. But from the sound of it it actually was an accident — the cop was negligent, but it doesn’t appear he meant to shoot him. But the fact that nobody questions the officer’s decision to taser a mentally ill panhandler who was leaving the scene is even worse. Yes, he had failed to appear in court and had a warrant. So what? He’s schizophrenic, known to the cop, and pumping him full of electricity for failing to comply in a situation like this is as cruel as beating him with a nightstick. Unless someone’s life is at stake, there’s just no excuse for it.
This is the right interpretation of the event. Non-compliance is a justification for violence, whether taser, nightstick, pepper-spray, boot, or gun.
The man had mental illness, and yes, he may have been involved in various kinds of petty non-violent crime, and he was running away. It reminds me of the death of Israel Hernandez, a wonderful artist whose medium, graffiti, did indeed mean he was breaking the law. The police caught him, he ran, they tasered, he died. The local police chief said, “The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident.”
Let’s be clear. A non-violent suspect of non-violent crimes who is running away is not a threat. The officers are not forced to tase them, but choose to, perhaps even are trained to do so.
We, as a society, have to choose what we value.