‘You’re Fucked’: The Acquittal of Officer Brailsford and the Crisis of Police Impunity

Two words stick in my mind when I think of the video of Daniel Shaver begging for his life before he was shot and killed by Officer Philip Brailsford of the Police Department in Mesa, Arizona. The two words were written on the dust cover of the AR-15 rifle Braisford used to kill Shaver:

“You’re fucked.”

We have seen this movie before. Daniel Shaver was not armed or committing any crime when was he shot to death by Brailsford. Like many previous police shooting videos, this one shows police behaving much more aggressively than Mr. Shaver. And like previous videos, a jury acquitted the officer of all criminal charges. But this video showed us two things about policing culture in America that stand out. First, the video shows Shaver begging for his life while he tried to follow contradictory instructions screamed at him by an officer. And Shaver was white.

Shaver had a job killing pests. Sometimes he used a pellet gun to get the job done, and he was seen holding the gun by people at the hotel. When the police were called, they were told a man had a gun so they had to be careful.

I get it. But how far does that information take us?

At trial, the officer emphasized the danger of a potentially armed person and claimed that what he did was consistent with his training. But if that ends the inquiry, it will be almost impossible to convict a police officer of a crime for shooting anyone. There is an argument that this is already the reality in America.

In the 12 years between 2005 and April 2017, only 80 officers have been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges for on-duty shootings, according to work by Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. The Washington Post reported that between 2015 and 2017 police shot and killed 2,884 people. Police shoot and kill numerous people every year and are hardly ever held accountable.

Shaver and a companion had been ordered out of a hotel room and told to get on the floor. The video shows him being neither hostile nor resistant. On the video you can hear one of the officers screaming, “If you make a mistake, another mistake, there is a very severe possibility you’re both going to get shot … if you move, we are going to consider that a threat, and we are going to deal with it, and you may not survive it.” The police are screaming that the cost of a mistake is death — what kind of training teaches that as a proper way to deal with people?

Do you think an innocent person might get nervous if an AR-15 was pointed at him while the police officer was screaming commands, including, “Make a mistake and I will kill you?” Would you get nervous?

Not only was the officer shouting in a very hostile voice, the orders were contradictory. “Do not put your hands down for any reason,” he tells Shaver. “Your hands go back in the small of your back or down, we are going to shoot you, do you understand me?” Shaver, who is now in tears, says, “Yes, sir.”

But immediately after, the commands change, “Crawl towards me,” and Mr. Shaver lowers his hands to the floor and begins moving toward the officers.

A few seconds after beginning to crawl, Mr. Shaver seems to twist slightly to his right, and as he does so someone shouts, “Don’t!” Officer Brailsford begins firing the first of five shots. As predicted by the other officer, Shaver did not survive.

There is no training that justifies the behavior seen on the video. Screaming at a person that is crying cannot be a legitimate technique for officer training. And if Shaver did something threatening, why was Brailsford the only officer who fired his weapon, not just once or twice, but five times?

And Daniel Shaver was white. Deliberate or unconscious racial bias played no role. Black or brown skin was not a proxy for a threat. This video demonstrates how far we have gone as a country in accepting the culture of police violence. Policing in America has advanced to the state where anyone can be killed for no good reason.

The jury that acquitted Brailsford did not hear about the two words that were on his dust cover because the judge excluded that evidence. The laws in virtually every state do a great job of protecting police. Snoop Dogg has said that policing in America is a “Resident Evil, it’s all on camera and they still don’t believe you.” This is the police/community relationship we have created for ourselves.

Discussion of police training is not unimportant — it can be the difference between life and death. Don’t assume that police violence will be limited to Black and brown people — the culture of violence will not exempt white people.

Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal, was quoted in The New York Times saying “What people as humans will see is someone drunk and emotionally distraught…The police will read that differently. In some sense it’s an argument without end: The police are just going to add this up a different way.”

Can any of us be safe in a society where police officers are trained to have a perspective that is other than human? How is it possible that a trained officer thinks the appropriate response to a mistake is five bullets from an AR-15? If Americans don’t work to change laws so that police can be held accountable for unnecessary violence, get ready for more executions and more brutal videos.

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JJ

I’m a medically retired police officer. I spent 3 years on a SWAT team as pointman of my decade on the job. This is a homicide - non-justified. Every single action by all the officers after he started complying was completely wrong. It’s stunning to me there was no voice of reason stepping in to calm it down. I’ve done it many times when officers get hyped up. It happens, our hormones and brain chemicals can dump a lot into the body. There has to be someone to say ease up, take your time, we are in control. Nothing happens here, just a jackass with an M-4 who should have been off the job a long time ago. Everything about his actions scream “I’m looking for any opportunity to shoot someone”. These guys are real in law enforcement and often believe it will bring them cred and lead to a promotion. It’s garbage. I’ve seen so many stupid shootings at moving vehicles I could puke. “It was coming right at me!”. Uh yeah, but you’re an absolute dipshit for stepping in front of it. Agencies have to a better job of identifying these types and certainly deal appropriately when it happens. Cops don’t like second guessing one another. They’ve all been second guessed themselves. I get it, but it cannot override basic human reason. This man didn’t need to die. Shaver has no business as a law enforcement officer. I would have killed a dozen people in my 10 year career (who actually did more to illicit deadly force) if I had Shaver’s interpretation of what a threat is. Some of this goes on the prosecutor though. Over and over I see these cases charged as homicide fail to get a conviction. Even when lesser charges are added the focus for a jury is always the murder charge. Prosecutors need to start charging these appropriately. Which means lower level charges with a much higher likelihood of conviction and approach them as such. An officer who made a huge mistake - one any reasonable officer would have known better and now needs to face the consequences. Approach it as such will see much higher success.

JJ

I used Shaver when I intended the officer’s name just to clarify my comments.

inXs

How does anyone in a jury find that not to be murder?

Anonymous

The men who are responsible for this don’t even deserve my spit to fall on their boots. Subhuman trash masquerading itself as the “protectors” of this country. They don’t deserve any love or compassion, they need to rot away.

Ron Johnson

After all this time, this tragic event that unfolded from the cowardly hands of Philip Brailsford, still bothers me. All police departments across this what was once a great nation, have become militarized all in the phony name of security. I pray to God that my family and myself never have to deal with any police officer, anywhere in any fashion, not even to ask a question. Police in this country have evolved into paid government assassins and this scares the hell out of me. I hope and pray that the Shaver family gets justice for this heinous cowardly act at the hands of the police. Why do the police get away with things like this? One thing is that all the cards are stacked against the victims and their family, by government. A State police officer murders some one, it's investigated by the police and attorney general, both State entities. The cop in question is defended by the State, and then tried by a judge from the State. This one sides judicial system equals no justice for the victim and their family. There's a system for the State and a separate system for government, especially when murder by police happens. Remember people, police department across this country are just a mirror image of what your government actually is. God bless Daniel Shaver and his entire family.

Anonymous

I just saw this story and video on Crime Watch Daily and was truly aghast at the horror of it. It’s terrifying to think we as a Society, have 25 yr-olds posing as ”Police” Officers with “You’re Fuc**ed” etched on a “personal” Assault Weapon used to murder a crying, defenseless, young father of 2. And what kind of “training” is it that teaches one to Shriek and Threaten Death at a Potentially Innocent Person and Issue a Hostile Verbal onslaught of contradicting commands; “ Hands Above!” “Hands In front!” “keep your hands UP!” “Crawl!” Are our Police being trained as PEACE OFFICERS or as TERRORISTS? Because the 2 policemen in this video; the One shrieking & the One “Fuc*ing” Shooting that poor, scared man... seem more like Terrorists to me. The DOMESTIC VIOLENCE in this Country is truly a DISEASE... a Contagious Cancer...don’t you see? The people being killed are indeed Victims; but even more so are all the family and loved ones left behind to “deal with” the Injustice. How do you “deal with” injustice when you can’t even count on your Police Department, and a legal system that sees “You’re Fuc*ked” on YOUR Gun as “prejudicial” against YOU?? You’re damned right it is! And all the VICTIMS left behind...the children...how many of them are growing up with parents DEAD or incarcerated or Drug Addicted? NO JUSTICE = NO LOVE= Pschopathy=Terrorism. It’s truly heartbreaking... my only child was killed by a bullet but I can’t even get my own Senator to listen to anyone besides the NRA. I have to spend hundreds of dollars every year for car insurance and yet the Owner of the gun that killed my son has Never , EVER been held accountable. Our Country is becoming so incredibly BRUTAL and yet, those of us who Know IT seem to have NO POWER to change it...I mean, I won’t stop trying but My God, its hard to hold onto the Hope sometimes! Deepest Condolences to this man’s family...and the countless others...

Anonymous

This is the worst crime I have ever seen. The poor guy had no idea what was even going on and he was trying to give up...all they had to do is take him into custody...that cop just used him for target practice.. Incredible.....

Anonymous

I HOPE THE 2 COPS GET KILLED IN A VERY SLOW PAINFUL DEATH. THE SOONER THE BETTER OFF CIVILIZED SOCIETY WILL BE. THESE POLICE OFFICERS AKA THUGS IN A UNIFORM ARE NOT HUMAN AND SHOULD BE HUNG IN PUBLIC. THEY ARE SCUM OF SOCIETY.

Gary M

This is what the ACLU should be focused on. In recent years I have stopped my support of your org, due to the biased support of virtually only left wing progressive politics. Get back to your focus on protecting our life's and Turkey constitutional rights, and not Planned Parenthood, st al and you will be loved by multitudes instead of elitist only.

Anonymous

That young trigger happy militarised cop was out to kill someone. He may not know it, nor acknowledge it. But it's plainly obvious to see. Murder. Murder. Murderer.
Arrogant, overbearing, vindictive, abusive, insecure, good at lying to yourself? Join the cops and quench your bloodthirst. People like that deserve to burn in hell for eternity. A life sentence is too lenient, and the court system let him walk? Unbelievable.

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