MANY CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND HOW DIFFICULT MY JOB CAN BE
By: Officer Deon Joseph
I wanted to wait a few days before I posted this. I needed to process it thoroughly. Two nights ago I left the police station after a long day’s work. I was in my personal car, wearing nothing more than a T-shirt and jeans. As I’m driving, I pass a very dark street. I see a commotion on the south side of the street. People are walking away quickly from a shadowy figure walking in and out of traffic pointing something. I could not tell what it was as I passed him. As I looked in my rear-view mirror, it appeared he was continuing to point something in his hand at people and vehicles passing him by. I tried to stop and investigate, but he took off westbound. So I drove around the block and see the young man again. The light of an oncoming vehicle illuminated him. He was a young black male in his mid-20s wearing a hoodie off his head. He was still pointing at people. As they walked away nervously, another vehicle shined their lights on his hand and it appeared to be a firearm.
I was still not 100% sure. But as I drove closer it indeed appeared to be a firearm. I passed him and made a U-turn to try to confront him. I wasn’t thinking about the consequences. I was not thinking about what color he was beyond knowing his physical descriptors. I was not thinking about the criticism I would receive in the press afterward, my only focus was trying to stop him, hopefully without having to use deadly force. All I knew was he had a gun. As I completed my U -turn, he ran into a nearby shady hotel.
Still trying to process if he was holding a gun or not due to the darkness, my suspicion that he had an actual weapon was heightened when I saw a man run out of the hotel screaming for his life and begging the young man not to shoot him. The young man immediately followed the screaming man, chasing him down pointing what truly looked like a firearm at the man. I grabbed my gun and tried to exit my vehicle to shoot the young man and protect the older gentleman he was chasing. I was stuck in my seatbelt and frantically tried to get out of it to neutralize the threat.
As I was finally able to unbuckle my seatbelt, the young man ran across the street to the back of my police station. He was now pointing the weapon at the wall of the station and yelling incoherently. The station was well lit but he had his back turned so I could not see the weapon. I drove my car closer so I could use it as cover. I got out and pointed my weapon at him. I ordered him to drop it as a detective showed up to assist me. When he saw me, he paused. If he would have turned and pointed what I truly believed was a weapon in his hand based on the reaction of the people he was chasing, I would have shot him. I was scared for my life and the people around me. I had no vest, no radio, no ballistic door paneling. But as frightened as I was, I was ready to push past my fear to do what I prayed I would never have to do in my career. He then threw the item into the station planter.
I ordered him to the ground. He complied, but was still yelling at the sky. Sweat was pouring down his face. As my fellow officers arrived to help me, we were able to detain him without incident.
As we looked into the planter, it was a cellular phone. In his hand was a wadded-up piece of rubber or plastic made to resemble the handle of a gun. I was relieved and thankful to God that I did not have to shoot him.
He was a young man in his early 20s or maybe even 19. He was stoned out of his mind. It was obvious that he was mentally ill and under the influence of some substance. On the way home, I could not help but think of how I would have been perceived if I shot that young man.
Out of all of the things I have done to save lives, this one incident, on a dark street, with frightened homeless people fleeing from this man, and an item he purposely made to look like a gun … If I would have shot this man what would they say about me? How would I be portrayed? Would they call me a racist? Would they say I racially profiled him? Would the media call this a pattern? Would I get thrown under the bus, to satisfy an irrational and unquenchable anger within a political movement? Would it have sparked protest and another lawsuit? Would there be mobs of people looking for “answers” no matter what the facts would bear out? Would I be seen as a hypocrite? Would political candidates use this incident to get elected citing that I … a 20-year veteran who has never shot anyone, was “Too quick to pull the trigger” to pander to a voter base. Would the headline in the paper the next day read “Veteran LAPD Cop Slays Teenager for Carrying a Cellphone?”
That beautiful young black man could have been my son. I had no hatred in my heart toward him before I saw him, nor after he was detained. My heart broke for this lost soul who may have wanted me to kill him via suicide by cop.
But would I have done what many of us dread to keep people safe? Yes.
I need you all to know that my job is not an easy one. No police shooting can be simply summed up by racial measures. Race had zero to do with what I almost did. But if folks still want to “racialize” this incident, then tell the truth.
And that truth is that I was almost forced to take a young life, to save many black lives. But I am thankful to God I did not have to.
I share this for those who wonder what goes through the mind of a law enforcement officer in situations like these. If I would have shot that young man, I would have been ordered not to talk about it until the investigation was complete for logical reasons. That would have left those with an already negative view toward police to sum up in their minds why I would have taken that action. Police shootings are not something we take lightly. I value human life as much as the next person, but if a human tries to harm others, then I in my humanity, bound by duty, would have had to take action.
Please stop judging until you are in our shoes.