He refused to walk to me. I kept my eye on his partner, even though he had already been patted down. I continued to call to him. I instructed him again and he again refused. Out of the hundreds of teenagers at the Rec Center, I needed to know why they were the only ones running from the scene of a “shots fired” call. I had been given information by dispatch that matched he activity of these two guys. I called to him again. He again refused, cursing at me and in an instant he lifted his shirt up, jammed his hand down the front of his pants, and I reacted…
There is a moment when time feels like it stops, physically, but mentally our minds keep moving forward. It is a very short time but it is there. It is in that time that we must make decisions that can impact us for the rest of our lives. Should I turn left? Should I look both ways while crossing this railroad track? Should I spend one more second at this stop sign? These are decisions we make every day without even thinking about them for more than a second. But sometimes we are faced with decisions that require our brain to move at a speed unlike anything we have ever experienced before. In that split second, our brain must comprehend a moment in time, the environment, the problem, the possible solutions, and the actions.
We are quick to criticize police officers for their actions after we are fed the story through various news outlets. We receive our news from the right side, the left side, and the so-called middle. Each with a differing opinion about what happened based on video tapes, audio files, cell phone recordings, and testimony. These opinions are thrown out to the public and the officers actions are sensationalized so much that it changes the view the public has about police officers. Now, because one cop shoots and kills a young man, the public believes that “all” cops shoot and kill “young men”. When in reality, that is far from the truth.
We also base our belief of the incident on our past experiences with police officers. We tend to place spread this belief to other as well, infecting their own views. Let’s say I had a run-in with Officer Smith and I felt that I was wrongly accused of something…well I may forever hate cops and anything good anyone told me about Officer Smith would be wrong. Or lets say that I was saved by Officer Smith after I wrecked my car in a ditch and now I forever support him and the job he does. So now lets fast forward to a time when Officer Smith shoots a citizen. Regardless of the circumstances, I will either stick by him no matter if he is an actual murderer or I will persecute him because he wronged me in the past even if his life was in danger. We use our belief of a person or a group of people to alter our perception of reality. The reality being that we are not in Officer Smith’s shoes and we are not his brain.
Our brain sends electrical impulses to muscles fiber in our arms that create a chain reaction of chemicals that cause the muscle fiber to contract. This happens at lightning quick speed and before I know it, my Beretta Px4 Storm is out of the holster and aimed, center mass, at the guy’s chest “HANDS…HANDS…SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!” I scream as I charge forward, scared that this guy has a gun and we are about to be engaged in a fire fight in the middle of hundreds of teenagers. In an instant I am on him, his hands coming out of his pants. I am prepared for whatever is coming. I know that in that split second I will have to react. If he has a weapon, I will have to react to save the lives of the bystanders and myself. His hands clear his pants and I can see through the sweat in my eyes, the palms of his hands. My heart skips a beat and my brain sighs. I rush forward. “GET ON THE GROUND!” I yell, my voice shaking. The guy is cursing more now and begins to ask why I pulled my gun on him.
In that split second, I had to make a choice. My brain had to work out a complex problem that many people are never faced with. Does he have a gun or does he not? It also had to work out what to do if he did have a gun. I have told myself over the years that if the guy would have pulled out a gun, I would have been forced to react based on my training, experience, knowledge, and care for my own life. But in reality I don’t know what would have done because I am no longer in that moment. My brain is no longer faced with that complex problem and there or no longer a set of possible solutions that includes me firing my weapon. Just like the news and citizens are never in the moment when this actual event does happen. Would any part of me ever want to do this to this man? No. We should never want to hurt anyone but in times of danger we must react. We must make split second decisions that will live with use forever, even if forever is a only a split second later.
(In the end, he tells me that he was trying to pull up his underwear because they were falling down. I explained to him the split second decisions I had to make and we both stared at each other, relieved at the outcome but knowing that things could have been a lot worse that day.)