In Roebuck, Alabama, a police detective was reportedly disarmed and pistol-whipped unconscious at a traffic stop and later told CNN that he hesitated to shoot the unarmed man who approached him because he didn’t want to make headlines.
The man, Janard Cunningham, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder. The detective is “doing much better,” but did sustain a concussion and cuts to the head.
CNN quoted the detective as saying, “A lot of officers are being too cautious because of what’s going on in the media… I hesitated because I didn’t want to be in the media like I am right now.”
CNN quoted Heath Boackle’s, the president of Birmingham’s Fraternal Order of Police, who said that officers around the nation are “walking on eggshells” because of the media narrative about the fatal shootings of unarmed people.
Police are trained to shoot to kill, so when the detective is talking about “hesitating to shoot,” he is talking about using deadly force. In this case, the detective is lamenting not shooting to kill an unarmed man who didn’t kill him, even when he had the chance.
Remember that Cunningham took the detective’s gun and knocked him out. Obviously he could have, and obviously did not, shoot the helpless detective. The only person in that interaction who wanted to shoot anyone was the detective, which we know based on his comments to CNN. But it’s Cunningham who has been charged with attempted murder.
CNN provided these quotes and framed them without explaining any of the context or statistics that have led to societal outrage against police killings and the lack of accountability for police officers who kill.
Police are paid to face down the darker side of humanity and, at times, their jobs can be dangerous. This is why they are paid well after being hired as basically unskilled workers. None of this is to say that I support violence against police or begrudge officers the human right to self defense. But part of the job, and part of what police are paid well for, is to face the chance that they will end up in physical struggles and sometimes will be hurt.
CNN doesn’t know, and we don’t know, what led to the altercation. We do know that the detective didn’t think whatever the traffic violation he pulled Cunningham over for was worth his time. Reportedly the struggle began while the detective was waiting for an officer to take over the traffic stop so he could go work on a different case.
Some witnesses at the scene took pictures and posted them to social media accounts mocking the injured detective while others reportedly came to the detective’s aid.
“It really speaks to the lack of their morality and humanity,” Police Chief A.C. Roper told CNN. “People commented on the pictures in a celebratory fashion… disregarding that this public servant has a family and is committed to serve in some of our most challenging communities.”
Roper’s outrage that the pictures were taken and at commenters mocked the detective is understandable. While we don’t know the specifics that led to the struggle or who was at fault, it’s reprehensible to take enjoyment in the physical injury or death of anyone. The reported mocking of the injured detective is the other side of the ugly coin alleged in the Zachary Hammond killing where police were seen by other officers lifting the body of the dead teenager and high-fiving it.
Note that CNN’s coverage of Roper’s complaint about commentators “disregarding that this public servant has a family” comes at the same time as they present the detective lamenting not shooting Cunningham. Cunningham is human too and as such we can presume he has a family as well. The police and CNN are engaging in the same sort of dehumanizing rhetoric that they complain about.
Ultimately we can’t determine who was at fault in this instance without more information. In this case, it’s just good that no one died, and no one was shot. It’s regrettable that the detective was harmed. And it’s horrifying that the detective went to the press to lament missing his chance to kill an unarmed man. Also horrifying is the dehumanization and lack of regard from people who took pictures of the injured cop and those who mocked him along with the police commentators and CNN who in turn showed no regard to Cunningham’s humanity.
If the police sources cited are accurate in their claim that police are hesitating to shoot unarmed people because of societal pressure and media, it’s a generally a good thing, but it’s also worrying in the face of how many people are still being killed by police.