On Tuesday evening, an unarmed teenage boy named Antwon Rose was shot three times in the back and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
People in the neighborhood saw it.
One woman filmed the encounter and posted it on Facebook.
Antwon and the police didn’t have an altercation.
They weren’t fighting over a gun.
Police aren’t alleging that the boy threatened them with violence or made a weird motion into his waistband that frightened them.
The police aren’t alleging, as they did after unloading their guns into the body of Stephon Clark in Sacramento earlier this year, that Antwon pointed a gun, no a tire iron, no a cell phone at them.
None of that.
From the video it appears that Antwon, who was a rising senior at his local high school and was known as a generous skateboarding nerd, was simply afraid, and made the split second decision to run for it.
The car that they were in had been flagged as suspicious because of a shooting that happened earlier that day. And Antwon was faced with a critical decision – stay and see what happens or run for his life.
I want to have a frank conversation for a few moments, okay?
I understand why Antwon ran. I understand why anybody whose been pulled over by the police has the urge to run.
Philando Castile was pulled over by police, followed each and every command, and was still shot and killed in the front seat of his car.
Oscar Grant was handcuffed by police in Oakland and was shot and killed by police while he was in handcuffs.
12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police within 1.2 seconds of them ordering him to put his hands up.
Black people have every reason to see police and want to run for it – because we’ve seen countless cases where we were killed even when we followed each and every command.
Having spoken to friends and family members of Antwon, they all seemed to agree that Antwon appeared to panic, thinking that running for it was his best option.
Here is where I want us to have “the talk.” If you are listening this morning and are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle, or a godparent, listen to me closely.
Because of two Supreme Court decisions, Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor, American police are allowed to shoot us if we are running if at the moment they shoot, they believed it was possible that we could cause harm to them or to the community.
Now, that conclusion doesn’t have to actually be true. Antwon was completely unarmed. But those two Supreme Court decisions state that police don’t have to actually know whether or not you are armed to have the legal right to shoot you – even in the back.
In fact, in Tennessee v. Garner, 15-year-old Edward Garner was shot in the back and killed by a police officer. Like Antwon, he was fully unarmed and non-violent. For over a decade Edward’s dad fought for justice and never received it – because the Supreme Court ruled that at the moment police shoot, if they believe they are protecting themselves or the community, they are allowed to shoot.
Now listen to me. I think that’s a bad decision by the Supreme Court. I think we should challenge it. We must.
But until that decision is overturned, it appears police, in almost every single circumstance, will be allowed to shoot us if we run.
Did Antwon deserve to be shot? Of course not. He should be alive right now. We shouldn’t even know this boy’s name. His family spent yesterday at the funeral home. They are devastated beyond words.
If you are ever pulled over by police, if you’ve made a huge mistake or not, if you’ve ever been pulled over by police, don’t run for it.
Take a deep breath. Pray silently in your head. Put your car in park. Put the keys on the dash. If you have time, put your ID or wallet on the dash, but if you don’t have time, just wait. You don’t want the police to see you fidgeting or digging. No matter what seat you are in, unlock your door, put the window down before the cops get to the car, and hang your hands outside of the window. Leave them there and tell them that you are going to leave your hands right there because you are afraid and want them to know that they are safe.
At that point, listen intently, speak clearly, and be very slow to move.
Your only goal is to survive that situation. Your only goal is to live another day. These officers have been trained on how to kill us and get away with it.
You are well within your rights to argue, but I promise you that it’s not the time to argue.
Breathe some more so that you can stay calm. If they ask you to get out of the car, calmly ask them if they can open the door, so that you don’t have to move your hands where they can’t see them.
Don’t run. Don’t panic. As humiliating as it may when they ask you to get out of the car, put your hands above your head even if they have not asked you to do so.
My time is up. It’s not fair that we have to have this talk, but the laws and the law enforcement in this country weren’t meant to protect us, they were designed to punish us, and we have to find ways to survive in this system.