The Obligation None Of Us Should Forget.

December 9, 2017

 

“Hello, my name is Laney Sweet. My husband, Daniel Shaver, was unjustly murdered by a police officer 18 months ago.”

 

When I got her message in my inbox on July 17th of this year, I didn’t know who Laney Sweet was. I did, however, know her husband's name. 

 

Even though I have spent my entire professional life in law enforcement, my roots have always been in cognitive-psychology and human perception. As I juggled my way through having a family and working as full-time as a cop, I also found time to pursue an undergraduate and then graduate college education to further my efforts to understanding human cognitive processes.

 

As a result of my passionate interest in understanding how our mind’s work, long before I had a public Facebook Page, website, or blog, I invested considerable time examining what I could discover about the psychology of policing, and how could I help improve the profession.

 

Now, when it comes to examining a fatal police encounter where the person killed is unarmed, many people only render their opinion from standpoint of if a shooting is “good” or “bad” based on legal merit. For me, I take a different stance. I consider every shooting in which a person is unarmed to be a “bad shooting.”

 

When I say every unarmed shooting is “bad,” that doesn’t mean that every incident is unjustified based on legal, or at times rational merit. Rather, I mean that they are “bad” because a person has lost their life and ultimately they did not have the means, opportunity, and ability in which to inflict serious bodily harm or death on another. The caveat being, the instances in which a person initially provokes a fatal police encounter by pretending to be armed.

 

My assumption that all unarmed fatal police encounters are “bad” is not on the basis of admonishing those who have fired the fatal shots. Rather, it is to examine what went wrong in these instances that have resulted in the loss of a person’s life.

 

For me, the case of Daniel Shaver’s death presented one of those opportunities in which I could break down the events and hopefully find out what went wrong as to prevent something similar from ever happening again.

 

As people bicker about police shootings on social media or in the news, what is lost on everyone is that justification is irrelevant. Rather, the most significant aspects of these events are that people’s lives are irreversibly changed and lost. For me, that’s a really big deal.

 

While others argue about how easily a police officer can lose their lives, or how easily a person who encounters a police officer can lose their life, I’m over here saying the loss of life on any side of the spectrum is tragically horrible; so what can we do to prevent the loss of life period.

 

Now, I didn’t know Laney Sweet’s name when she messaged me this past July, however, in truth it was because of her that I already knew her late husband’s name.

 

In May of 2016, I came across a news headline, “Unsealed Arizona police video omits shooting of unarmed man.” The news article shared the police body camera footage from Mr. Shaver’s January encounter with the Mesa police, just up to the point in which he was shot and killed. Ultimately, the only reason this much of the video had been made public was that his widow, Laney, and her attorney had persistently demanded that the body camera video was available shortly after Daniel’s death. 

 

Even though the body camera footage that was released in May of 2016 was incomplete, there was more than a lion’s share of information for me to examine that gave me some understanding of what went wrong and how things got to the point that Daniel Shaver lost his life.

 

Eventually, over a year before Laney Sweet messaged me, I had already put some of the things I had discovered in that video to use. As a P.O.S.T. certified police instructor and researcher, I began to try to use this tragic event as potential a solution for training others so that no one had to go through something like this again.

 

“My life has been forever damaged and every single day is a struggle to continue moving forward without Danny. I really don't know why I'm sending this. It's just refreshing to see a LEO be able to stand up against wrongdoing. I'm trying my best to teach my daughters that all police officers aren't "bad" -- unfortunately, their dad just came into contact with one who made the wrong decision.”

 

Laney Sweet in her message to me on July 17th, 2017.

 

 

On December 8th, one day after Officer Brailsford was acquitted by a jury of 2nd Degree Murder in Daniel Shavers’s death, I found myself getting ready for work. Since hearing the news a day earlier that Officer Brailsford had been acquitted,  his widow's words she messaged me four months prior tossed and turned in my head.

 

As people messaged me on my public Facebook page asking me had I seen the full bodycam video or asking what my thoughts were on the not guilty verdict, I found myself tormented by people’s request and honestly, emotionally I wasn’t ready to discuss Mr. Shaver’s death.

 

See for a lot of people they are accustomed to hearing their news and commentary from journalist or media personalities. People who are detached from the stories they report and are skilled in presenting information to generate attention; just before they are on to the next big story.

 

For me, incident’s like Daniel Shaver’s death is dramatically different. For one thing, it is really easy to be detached whenever current events occur in a flat two-dimensional world where events are measured by the length in which they generate attention. In this space, individuals lack any actual depth behind these stories they see and hear.

 

Yet, for me, when someone like Laney Sweet messages me, these events are not two-dimensional. In fact, these tragedies become events where the humanity of those that are affected is something I feel with considerable depth.

 

Honestly, take a moment again and read the comment Ms. Sweet made to me last July.

 

“I'm trying my best to teach my daughters that all police officers aren't "bad" -- unfortunately, their dad just came into contact with one who made the wrong decision.”

 

Think about that for a moment now. Consider, regardless of your personal opinion of Mr. Shaver’s death, think about the incredible person his widow must be to have expressed this sentiment to me, in light of everything she has had to endure.

 

Coupled with my emotional investment in something like Mr. Shaver’s death, unlike a journalist, my professional life represents the very occupation that is responsible for his death. Essentially, I become emotionally connected to people’s pain, while representing the entity that caused their grief.

 

This truly can be a very emotionally taxing position for me to be in at times, however, I wouldn't change it if I could. Because, in the end, if I can feel attached to these events, then just maybe I can convey that emotion towards others. Help peel away that two-dimensional world and bring people into the reality of these events.

 

December 8th, as I got ready for work, I finally took a moment and watched the entire bodycam video of Daniel Shaver’s shooting. After watching it, I thought of his widow and her message to me…I felt so sorry for what she must be going through…  I sat down in my closet and admittedly, I cried.

 

I have no desire to ever watch that video again…

 

“I'm trying my best to teach my daughters that all police officers aren't "bad" -- unfortunately, their dad just came into contact with one who made the wrong decision.”

 

Laney Sweet’s message danced in my mind as I rode around at work later that night. I couldn’t help considering what she and her daughters must be going through. 

 

I was emotionally biased, and admittedly I was very subjective in my opinion of Daniel Shaver’s death. I have a public forum and therefore, I considered how easy for me to allow my emotional feelings of this case take over, and give the masses exactly what they really want. However, there was something else I couldn’t get out of my mind.

 

See, when Laney Sweet messaged me on July 17th she had no way of knowing just how significant her comments really were.

 

The day before she messaged me, I found myself under a barrage of visceral comments and attacks on Facebook. The antagonists that had laid siege to my social media page, happened to be none other than other police officers… those in the very same profession as me.

 

What I had done to provoke such anger as having other cops publicly declare my worthlessness and how much of a stain I was on the badge?

 

I had dared speak out and say that something is drastically wrong when Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, is shot and killed by a Minneapolis Police Officer after she herself called 911 to report a possible assault.

 

As droves of police officers publically tried their absolute hardest to demonstrate that they are exactly the types of bullies that the public thinks they are, what was lost on them all was that I never said the officer who shot and killed her was a piece of shit or that he wasn't justified. Truthfully, this case had just occurred, therefore I could not have possibly been able to render a legitimate position of the legality or event ethical merit of the shooting.

 

Instead, what I said was that something is wrong when a person who is unarmed, and calling 911 for help, ends up getting shot by the very people she called to help her. Something is wrong, as it this is NOT how the entire concept of serving and protecting is supposed to function.

 

Something was wrong, with the fact that a man has suddenly lost his fiancé and a child is now without a future stepmom.

 

This was a woman who was loved and now she was dead.

 

People shouldn’t feel like if they call 911, there is an expectation they will die. When this is happening, exclusive of all justification or Monday morning quarterbacking hoopla… Something is wrong!

 

Regardless, of what other police officers may feel, I still stand behind that belief, and say… this is all wrong. We should care not to defend our profession through bullying or victim blaming. Instead, how about we care enough to get to the bottom of what is wrong and try to fix it?

 

On December 8th I found myself facing a collision of mixed emotions.

On one side of the gamut, I felt real sadness for what Laney Sweet must be going through right now because of her message last July. For this, I found myself at a loss to express anything to her, except that I was just sorry for all of this and her pain with this loss.

 

Yet, on the opposite end, I felt genuine gratitude and couldn’t express enough my thanks to her for messaging me. Because, unbeknownst to her, when she messaged me, by mere chance of the timing she grounded me and made me suddenly not hate my own profession.

 

“I'm trying my best to teach my daughters that all police officers aren't ‘bad’”-

 

Laney Sweet didn’t message me and say “Fuck the police” even though, let’s be honest she had every single reason to feel that way! In fact, because she didn’t, and instead said she wanted her daughters to believe that not all police officers are bad, that honestly makes her better than about 99% of us.

 

I’ll be honest and open, had I been in her position… my message would have been “Fuck the police!”

 

Ultimately, I now have an obligation to Laney Sweet, to NOT let my emotions get the best of me, and draw out from the underbelly of law enforcement those ones who try really hard to demonstrate to her daughters, “Nope, sorry we’re all bad.”

 

Instead, I have an obligation to try to do whatever I can to help her and her daughters believe that… No, not only are all cops not bad, but we can indeed possess the desire to be better. I have an obligation not to hate my profession, rather try whatever I can to make everyone view it as something they love.

 

To Laney Sweet… I’m sorry for your pain and yet, equally, I thank you for what your message did for me at exactly the right time I needed it most.

 

Eventually, I may share with everyone the many issues and concerns that I think contributed to Daniel Shaver’s death. If everyone was hoping I would go on a literary journey down lambast lane over his death, I apologize, you’re not going to get your just deserts from me today. If that is what you so desire, by all means, please entertain the thoughts and views of any of the number of media outlets or activists available on the web. 

 

At the end of the day, lambast lane has done no good, and for several years it has been groundhogs day, with nothing meaningful being achieved. I wouldn’t be diligent in fulfilling my obligation to Laney Sweet and her daughters, if I simply jumped on board for attention, and kept pounding the same methods in hopes of different results.

 

Instead, I want to pose something else, a question that asks one to consider why did Daniel Shaver die. A question that asks why was it, seemingly an abomination to say that something was wrong when Justine Damond lost her life.

 

A question that could answer why it is that the entire United States of America seems like a polarized powder keg of social destruction.

 

Have we all have forgotten that when we deal with each other,  we are equal in the fact we are all human beings? Do we only now consider our perceptions from ourselves and forget that how we view things can be drastically different for someone else?

 

 

Have we all forgotten we are human beings bound by our physiological constraints?

 

On January 18th, as Officers barked orders at Daniel Shaver in the hallway of the La Quinta Inn and Suites hotel in Mesa, Arizona, did anyone consider that he clearly appeared to be intoxicated? Did anyone consider that one of the side effects of intoxication is impaired judgement?

 

Seriously, once when I was drunk, I peed off of the balcony of a country club at a wedding. Was this a good idea? Noooooo. Would I have realized this wrongness in this had I been sober? Yessss.

 

Did anyone consider the effect that being intoxicated might have had and maybe people aren’t going to do exactly what you say, yet that still doesn’t mean they should lose their life?

 

As people champion out the phrase that pays, “Well just do what the cops say, and you’ll be fine.” Have they ever considered that having a gun pointed at you, whether by a cop, robber, or the Mujahideen, is indeed an experience that elevates anxiety and stress?

 

Has anyone considered the biological responses of the human body to experiences of high anxiety and stress?

 

Imagine for a moment your mind is racing; your stomach feels like it's just jumped into your throat. Your heart rate and breathing are accelerating. Suddenly your blood pressure increases. Your eyesight begins to narrow, and you lose peripheral vision. You begin to experience something called auditory exclusion, or temporary loss of hearing.

 

Why do you feel this way? Well, you honestly cannot help it, currently, this is what it is like to experience the uncontrollable physiological effect called "Fight or Flight."

 

Your body is engaged in the automatic response to situations that could result in your injury or death. Logic and rationality go out the window. Your body shuts down all non-essential functions that are unnecessary for responding in only two ways. Flee to safety or fight to live.

 

Now picture yourself saying to you right now, "Just do what the cop says. You'll be fine."

 

The fact is these are indeed aspects we must consider because try as we might, that thing on the business end of a gun barrel, is a human being and they can have very little control over what their body is doing.

 

Have we all forgotten that it is our emotional connections that make us all human?

 

Before people take to social media or the news offering their opinions, have they ever considered that no matter what, when a life is lost, it hurts. Everyone has someone who loves them, and when a life is lost those loved ones hurt. We need to remember that.

 

Now, this doesn’t pertain to the Daniel Shaver case, as best as I know, however, someone’s past or background is irrelevant once they’ve lost their life. It doesn’t matter who someone “was” with the exception of remembering everyone once was a baby; a baby that no mother in this world ever held and thought that someday they would tragically lose their life.

 

For all of us, it doesn’t matter what we “were,” because that doesn’t have to define who we’ll be. What matters what we can be, and unfortunately, when a person loses their life, what they can be on this earth is now done.

 

We should never forget that our words can both uplift and equally tear people down. We can easily create this self-deception that we aren’t really talking to or about real people when we only allow ourselves to consider them from a two-dimensional world. Yet, behind that fantasy we create for ourselves are people.

 

People just like yourself.

 

At the end of the day, whether you’re a police officer or any person, we all should remember that our actions and words towards others should be equal to what we would want another person to say or do towards our own children. Because, in the end, everyone, no matter who they are, is someone’s child.

 

That day that you lack empathy or compassion for another, could also be the day that the same is expressed towards your kids. Eventually, it is the children of today that will inherit the earth of tomorrow.

 

What that earth looks like is up to us.

 

Ultimately, when you consider what the Daniel Shaver’s death means to you, just remember whether it makes you mistrust or dislike the police… or if you are a police officer and it makes you feel the need to defend yourself because the public seems out to get you… Just remember, Laney Sweet, his widow, and what she said,

 

“I'm trying my best to teach my daughters that all police officers aren't ‘bad’”-

Would it be so horrible, if we all tried to help her be able to teach her daughters that all people aren’t bad?

 

Personally, I think this should be an obligation that none of us are allowed to forget.

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