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Who Is The Good Guy with a Gun?

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November 30, 2018

Last week on the night of Thanksgiving, a shooting at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Alabama killed a 21-year-old black man, E.J. Bradford, home for the holidays. Official media coverage of the shooting reported that the police had killed Bradford, because he was the initial shooter. However, in the following days, local social media reported a very different story: Bradford did not shoot anyone. He was simply one of the very many Alabama citizens who pulled out their guns at the sound of a gun going off. Regardless of your feelings on guns, Bradford wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was the “good guy with the gun” and he was black. And not only did that lead to his death, it lead to warped media coverage, because the police lied about it. It wasn’t a case of misunderstanding, either. It was a lie.

The initial report stated that the police had seen Bradford injure the two other victims of the shooting. The next report changed the story and said that Bradford simply brandished a gun. Then, the police clarified their wording and stated that they simply saw Bradford with a gun. Witnesses at the scene reported that not only was Bradford trying to help the frantic situation, but that the police gave no verbal commands before shooting him. E.J. Bradford’s father called Hoover Police before the media briefing that night, and they did not tell him what happened. “You let him bleed out,” says E.J. Bradford Sr. The police knew what they did was wrong, and they lied about it. This is not a mistake in judgement. This is not a result of a frenzy. This is the result of racism. This is the result of anti-blackness.

Alabama has been protesting the truly reprehensible actions of the police department. This is a failure of law enforcement, a failure of justice. City leaders have been meeting to decide what to do about the situation, and differing views on the situation are being spread throughout the community. One particular opinion I’ve been seeing was that the police officer was new, and he can’t be blamed for reacting in a tense situation. Here’s the thing: I don’t think that’s right. I think he should definitely be blamed.

The job of a police officer is tough, of course. They risk their lives everyday in the service of the safety of the community, and they have to make tough choices. But they are, at the end of the day, enforcers of the law. That does not make them immune to the law–that makes them a representation of the law. I don’t care if the police officer was new or tense. He shouldn’t have been. It is his job to act accordingly in such a situation. He made a mistake, and he must be accounted for it. We cannot have people working in law enforcement who make mistakes that lead in the losses of innocent lives. If police officers aren’t charged for murder, that makes them above the law.

There’s no argument that his actions were racist. It’s Alabama–guns are perfectly legal here and socially acceptable. The police officer deliberately killed E.J. Bradford, because he was a black man. A black man who dared to be equal to the law died at the hands of an officer who believed he was above it. This is a gross injustice, and it cannot go unaccounted for. The police officer must be fired at the very least. No one can feel safe in a community with an officer of law enforcement known to make mistakes in the line of duty. The police cannot afford mistakes when lives are at stake.

This situation should make our society consider a reform of the police system. We should think deeply about who should be allowed to serve in such difficult and important jobs. We should think about what it is we mean by the term “good guy with a gun” and if such a person can even exist. We have no choice but to think about the clear racial profiling against black people in America. Profiling that can’t end so long as there is such a clear imbalance in law enforcement. Their job is to keep us safe, and yet the immediate response to them harming an innocent doesn’t involve removal from the job.

We need police reform. Because Black Lives Matter.

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