A national conversation lately has been about whether the justice system truly is colorblind, and recent events in Atlanta prove that color certainly matters to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard — that is, if that color happens to be blue.
Officer Garrett Rolfe was fired and is facing 11 charges, including felony murder, after prosecutors said he fatally shot a suspect who had pointed and discharged a stun gun at Rolfe on June 12. Just 10 days earlier, Howard had described stun guns as “a deadly weapon.”
Rayshard Brooks, the suspect in the Rolfe case, was drunk and asleep at the wheel in a drive-thru at an Atlanta Wendy’s on June 12, police said. After questioning Brooks, police said Rolfe attempted to apprehend the 27-year-old man, but Brooks resisted and grabbed an officer’s Taser in the scuffle.
As Brooks fled the scene, prosecutors said, he turned back toward police and fired the stun gun at Rolfe, who shot him twice in the back, killing Brooks.
The fallout from the shooting was swift and severe; protesters set fire to the Wendy’s, Rolfe lost his job, and the Atlanta police chief stepped down from his position.
But according to the Atlanta Police Department Policy Manual, one of the scenarios that explicitly justifies an officer to use “deadly force” is when an officer “reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury and when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”
And in the words of the district attorney himself, “A Taser is considered as a deadly weapon under Georgia law,” Howard said at a news conference on June 2 when he announced aggravated assault charges against Officer Willie Sauls and others implicated in an unrelated incident.
However, with Rolfe now facing murder charges, it appears Howard considered a Taser a “deadly weapon” when in the hands of a police officer he was prosecuting, but not for Brooks, the suspect who attempted to use it against a police officer.
Even forgetting the more broad allowances and other conditions under which deadly force is justified, Howard’s own words on June 2 indicate the officer was within his rights to respond as he did.
The only explanation for this double standard is color — both incidents involved “men in blue,” and each time, the weapon apparently was reclassified in whichever way implicated the police officer.
Stacey Abrams, the failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who still can’t concede that she lost her 2018 bid, also didn’t think a stun gun was a “deadly weapon.”
“A taser is not a deadly weapon. A gun is,” Abrams tweeted on the day after the shooting. “Adrenaline and irritation are not the same as mortal fear.”
“Running away should not be punishable by death,” she wrote.
“Public safety must mean the public is safe. All of us.”
What Abrams doesn’t acknowledge is that by the time Brooks was fatally shot, police said he already had driven drunk, resisted arrest and stolen a police-issued weapon, and therefore was killed for more than “running away.”
Undoubtedly, it is a tense and tumultuous time for law enforcement as the country continues to reel from the nationwide racially charged protests and riots stemming from the death of black man George Floyd last month in Minneapolis after a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Still, it isn’t fair for the law to cut against a group based on color — whether black, white or blue.
Besides the implications of overzealous prosecution against police for incidents in the line of duty, the basic decency of treating everyone the same under the law seems to have been jettisoned in favor of the narrative du jour that any time police shoot a black man, it is a racist, unjustified killing.
Based on the facts available now, it appears Rolfe is being sacrificed to the bloodthirsty mob simply because he is the wrong color in today’s political climate.
And prejudice against blue is no better than it is against black.