I don’t know how April Pipkins does it. Maybe her religion sustains her. Maybe she’s just in shock, and it hasn’t fully sunk in yet. I don’t know how April Pipkins even manages to get a coherent word, no less sentence, out of her mouth, considering her 21-year-old son was murdered in cold blood on Thanksgiving night by a police officer who mistakenly identified him as the gunman who shot two people in an Alabama mall.
April and her lawyer have been making the rounds of TV shows the last few days to voice their outrage at how her son, “EJ”, was slain. Reportedly (I say reportedly because the police keep changing their stories about the sequence of events), EJ was at the scene of a dispute between two people at the mall, and was fatally shot as he was running away and holding a gun. The initial police report indicated that EJ was indeed the killer, but was subsequently revised. The shooter is still at large. “‘We regret that our initial media release was not totally accurate, but new evidence indicates that it was not,’ the police said, adding that the conclusion was based on interviews with witnesses and ‘critical evidentiary items,’” according to an article on www.nytimes.com.
“‘He saw a black man with a gun and he made his determination that he must be a criminal,’ said civil rights attorney Ben Crump,” in another article online. “‘There’s a murderer on the loose largely because police rushed to judgment.’”
EJ received a general discharge from the United States Army in August, and was licensed to carry a firearm, news reports said. Perhaps he openly held his gun if he thought he could use it on the real perpetrator, and maybe he was fleeing if he thought he was going to be a victim himself. We will never know. We’ll only get the officer’s side of the story.
Whenever I hear about the circumstances surrounding shootings such as this I don’t know what to think. Police officers feeling threatened on one hand; innocent, often unarmed victims on the other. A man shot in the back in California earlier this year was carrying a cell phone, for instance. Clearly, these kinds of incidents are happening far too often, and law enforcement across the country must figure out a way to stop them.
This is a chilling report about police violence, which underlines what I’m saying. Consider some of these statistics:
- Police killed 1,147 people in 2017, most by shooting.
- Most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offenses or cases where no crime was reported.
- 89 people were killed after police stopped them for traffic violations.
- Police killed 149 unarmed people.
- Police recruits spend seven times as many hours training to shoot than they do training to de-escalate situations.
The last fact undoubtedly contributes greatly to precipitating the first four. Please know that I am not anti-police. But when anyone, in any profession, is poorly trained, he or she is more likely to make mistakes, sometimes horrendous mistakes. And a shooting obviously has far greater consequences than making a typographical error in an article, or baking a cake that doesn’t rise properly.
De-escalating a situation so it doesn’t get out of hand usually is the right approach, but it takes understanding, discipline and emotional intelligence to employ the tactics to make that happen. Most of us could use lessons in the subject.