Don’t blame cops if it’s not their fault

In my role as a contributing writer for this blog, I’ve repeatedly criticized bad cops (e.g., here), and frequently called for better recruiting, training, supervision, and discipline of police officers.

But we shouldn’t stereotype all cops as racist or trigger-happy. Some are, and police agencies need to rid the profession of them, but defunding police would only turn our communities over to criminals. We need better police, not fewer or no police.

After a grand jury cleared police in a Washington D.C. suburb of wrongdoing in the shooting death of Ryan LeRoux, 21, at a McDonalds drive-in on July 16, 2021, his father issued the following statement:

“Rhonda and I are deeply saddened that four Montgomery County Police Department officers met our African-American son’s cry for help with 23 shots fired. Ryan LeRoux was in the midst of a mental health crisis — not a crime. The MCPD knew that Ryan needed help — not bullets.”

Nope. Reaching for a gun isn’t a “cry for help,” it’s “suicide by cop.”

It’s not disputed that LeRoux had problems. He’d “lost his job, grandmother and longtime girlfriend … [and] was living out of his car” (see story here).

But it’s not true he wasn’t committing any crime. He was stealing food and engaging in disorderly conduct. Employees at the McDonalds called 911 because LeRoux refused to pay for the food he ordered and was blocking the drive-through lane. (What would you do, if you were them?) When the police arrived they found him sitting in his car with a cellphone, liquor bottle, and gun (see story here).

They tried negotiating with him for half an hour. A bodycam recorded one officer saying, “He’s on his phone, looking at me, not listening. The gun is right on the passenger seat.” Another officer repeatedly ordered Leroux to put up his hands. He didn’t.

Instead, he raised his arm and pointed something at the cops. That’s when they opened fire, killing him. Looking at the grainy video below, it looks like a cellphone to me, but I can’t be sure. The police said the gun, which had been on the passenger seat, was found in lying in his lap after he was shot.

LeRoux’s family complained that police “should have been able to resolve the situation without using deadly force.” They blame the cops for his death. The grand jury disagreed and exonerated all four officers.

I don’t see where the police did anything wrong in this case. This wasn’t a knee-jerk, trigger-happy shooting. They spent 30 minutes trying to defuse the situation. There was no coverup of police actions; their bodycams were activated, recorded everything, and the footage was released to his family, news media, general public, and given to the grand jury for their independent scrutiny.

On the other hand, LeRoux did everything wrong, starting with his attempt to steal food, then blocking the drive-through lane with his car. He’d apparently been drinking, and when the police came, he refused to get out of the car. He had a gun, and didn’t comply with their commands to raise his hands. When he raised his arm and pointed something at them — it’s almost immaterial whether it was his cellphone or the gun, given it was dark and they couldn’t see what it was — he was asking to get shot.

Why did a person whose family says was mentally ill have a gun? And what they are they thinking by blaming the police for shooting a mentally ill person with a gun who isn’t complying with police commands to surrender peacefully?

Cops aren’t superhuman. They’re mostly blue-collar guys who go to work every day to a dangerous job, and want to go home to their families after their shifts. Asking them to hold their fire in a situation like this, where an armed subject is unresponsive and then makes a sudden aggressive move, is asking them to be superhuman. And that’s asking too much of them.

George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, but Ryan LeRoux wasn’t murdered by Gaithersburg, Maryland, cops. He committed suicide.

His family’s anguish is understandable, and we should cut them some slack. But they should be careful about blaming the police for the results of their son’s actions. That risks cheapening and undercutting valid complaints about actual police misbehavior, and could deprive reform efforts of credibility. In other words, don’t cry “wolf” when cops are just doing their jobs and aren’t in the wrong.

Return to The-Ave.US Home Page

Comments are closed.