George Pyle: Appeals court tells Salt Lake City police they can assume we are all armed, so they can shoot us

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gina Thayne, aunt of Dillon Taylor who raised him, speaks in front of his portrait as people gather for a vigil on the six-year anniversary of Taylor’s death by the murals of people killed by police near 800 South and 300 West in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.

The newest ruling in a case where a Utah police officer killed an unarmed person of color gets to the bottom of why this happens so often.

Reading between the lines of a federal appeals court ruling issued Tuesday, we see a reasoning that the United States is so full of guns that it makes sense for police officers encountering just about anybody to assume that person is packing. And when that is the premise underlying police actions, and judicial reviews of those actions, of course the police are expected to shoot first and ask questions later. If at all.

As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, a three-judge panel of the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that had dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of Dillon Taylor, who was killed by an SLC police officer in 2014.

Shooting officer acted reasonably in killing Dillon Taylor, appeals court agreesPaighten Harkins | The Salt Lake Tribune

“ ... the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ majority opinion determined Officer Bron Cruz acted reasonably under the circumstances in shooting Dillon Taylor and reaffirmed the officer’s qualified immunity, according to the 68-page opinion.

Cruz shot Taylor twice on Aug. 11, 2014, after a person called police to report Hispanic men who ‘flashed a gun.’ Cruz and two other officers found Taylor and two men outside a 7-Eleven near 2100 South and State Street.

When Cruz confronted Taylor and told him to stop and show his hands, Taylor didn’t respond.

Instead, video shows, the 20-year-old kept his hands in his pants and tried to walk away. When Taylor did turn around and pull out his hands, Cruz shot him twice. Taylor didn’t have a gun and was wearing headphones, attached to a phone in his pocket when he was killed. ...

" ... ‘A reasonable officer could well conclude that Mr. Taylor’s drawing motion was hostile and that he sought to use a firearm against Officer Cruz or the other officers,’ [Judge Jerome] Holmes said, ‘even though this risk assessment ultimately proved to be mistaken.’ "

“Mistaken” is an awfully tame word for what happened. And a dissenting judge in the case brought that home.

“Dillon had a phone, a Snickers bar, and a nickel in his pocket — not a gun,” [Judge Carlos F.] Lucero wrote. “Officer Cruz had no basis to believe otherwise.”

The “no basis to believe otherwise” is where the case, and so many cases like it, turns. It’s why police shoot more civilians in the United States than in any other nation. And why a disturbing amount of those shootings happen in otherwise peaceful Utah.

Because the United States has more armed people than any other nation. In Utah, the law downright encourages people to carry concealed firearms — the sort of weapon police have cause to fear — going so far as to do away with any requirement that people carrying concealed weapons earn permits to do so.

It is difficult to imagine a court in the United Kingdom, Germany or Japan just assuming that every suspected miscreant seen on the street is carrying a gun, because they almost certainly aren’t. So officers in those other nations aren’t forgiven for automatically kicking into high-adrenaline fight mode the way American cops — Utah cops — do.

Understanding this might help reduce the number of shootings without blaming the poor street cops for everything. Might. If it would lead to laws and, more important, a culture that doesn’t worship firearms.

Yeah, right.

Some related articles:

Shooting not to kill. This Utah case fuels a debate that frustrates police. — Paighten Harkins | The Salt Lake Tribune

A Utah first: Data that shows the race of people police shoot at — The Salt Lake Tribune and FRONTLINE

The police shooting videos we don’t want to watch but need to — Chicago Tribune editorial

Police must be more open about shootings — Santa Fe New Mexican editorial

The Supreme Court Is to Blame for Racist Policing — Dahlia Lithwick interviews Erwin Chemerinsky | Slate

“ ... I think the police very much want to follow the law. And if the law imposes greater restrictions, they’ll follow that. So if the city allows the chokehold, the police are going to use it. And if the city prohibits the chokehold, the police won’t use it. If the law allows the police to enter a residence at night without knocking and announcing, the police will do it. But if the law prohibits entering without knocking and announcing, the police won’t do it. The police generally are rule followers. Yes, of course, they are bad apples. And yes, they’re overtly racist police, but having talked to a lot of police over many years, I think the police do want to follow the law. And if we had better law, better law from ordinances and statutes and state Supreme Courts, in the U.S. Supreme Court, we would then have better policing.”