(Picture: Alfred Olango, back left, seen in shooting stance while in confrontation with two officers. source: San Diego Union-Tribune)
Last Tuesday a black man named Alfred Olango was killed by police in El Cajon, California after a call by the man’s sister that he was behaving “erratically”. Although he was unarmed, a picture was released by the police which appears to show him pointing an object at two police officers. They said he was not complying with commands and that he suddenly assumed a “shooting stance” with the unidentified object, later determined to be a vape pen. Witnesses say that they shot him five times.
I was thirteen miles away, in a chemistry class. I learned the news when my mom called me, four hours after the fact. At that point in time, the only things we knew for sure was that he may have been mentally ill and that he may have been unarmed. I knew exactly where he was shot. Up the street from there is the Department of Motor Vehicles office where I got my driver’s permit. Just a block away is a local frozen yogurt shop where I spent some quality childhood days. My friends live and work in this community. Suddenly, the news wasn’t about some far-off place. It was about a few well-known stretches of asphalt in East County. My initial reaction was shock, denial, even anger. Not San Diego. Not here. Not another innocent life.
As I lay in bed that night, all I could muster is disbelief and worried optimism: This can end without violence. We don’t do things that way. Although there were some protesters outside the El Cajon Police Department, things stayed peaceful that night. Shock and confusion was sweeping over a city new to the idea of a war on black men.
Less than 24 hours later, Shawn King wrote a hit piece on the story for New York Daily News, self-assured of the need for his opinion and the unassailability of his position.
And he wasn’t alone. Kirsten West Savali, an associate editor for The Root, informed us that the El Cajon Police Department did not equip their officers with body cameras. She failed to mention that the average income in El Cajon is $47,885 with a cost of living 29 points above the national average. German Lopez, writer for Vox and author of such articles as “America’s Gun Problem, Explained”, reported that only 30% of African-Americans report “a great deal” of confidence in the police. He left out that in 2013, former Mayor Mark Lewis was quickly forced to resign by a city with a 70% white population after racist comments in an interview. And all through this storm of talking points and hasty assumptions, protests organized and mobilized. San Diego is quickly turning into a racial flash point, much to the surprise of the citizens of San Diego. And no one really knows what’s happening.
I’m not going to speculate or grasp at straws. I’m not going to tell you that Alfred Olango was a martyr to the grand racist conspiracy of AmeriKKKa. I’m not going to dig up every minor violation he has committed and paint the picture of an antisocial degenerate that the alt-right wants so desperately to believe. I’ll tell you what I know.
I know that the officers took 50 minutes to respond to the scene. Most of the crime the El Cajon Police deal with involves mental illness or substance abuse, so a call about a nonviolent person may have to wait for something more urgent. They also have a “tandem crew of mental health professionals embedded in a team within the police department”, like Shawn King suggested, called the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team. El Cajon police have confirmed that the clinician working with the police at that time was on another call.
Once the officers arrived, the situation had already been stewing for 50 minutes. They knew that Olango may be posing a threat to himself or others. He was seen weaving in and out of traffic, and could possibly be armed. They didn’t have the resources to properly handle the situation. But if he was armed or suddenly became violent waiting for the PERT team to finish on their call could have cost lives. And although what exactly happened will most likely remain unknown to everyone until the video evidence is released, I know that it certainly looks like Olango is taking an aggressive stance in the one photograph we do have of the incident.
There is never any good reason for police to shoot an unarmed person. But in this instance, these officers had to make the decision between allowing Olango to draw a silver, cylindrical object from his pants, or opening fire in an attempt to protect the bystanders in the area. I’m not saying it was an easy decision. I’m not saying that the officer that shot him made the right decision. But white or black, a suspect who is possibly a danger to others drawing a silver cylinder from their pocket is going to force that decision.
But Shawn King sits on his high horse and tells us, “We can do better”. What decision would you have made, Mr. King? How would you have done better? Because El Cajon has more than enough problems with substance abuse, mental illness, and poverty. We are searching for answers that can’t be found in a click-bait article or violent protests. But you don’t care. All you know is there is publicity to be had.
And now, in San Diego, Charlotte, and Baltimore, we see the effects of this race baiting. Neighborhoods that have been peaceful for decades are now in the grips of a crisis. The media has manufactured a crisis that everyone seems to readily swallow. I’m not going to pretend that there is no inequality here or that all the police officers are perfect. We can never grow as a community if we never listen to each other, and if minorities feel marginalized in my community, I want to be the first to know. But now, the media is warping the streets I walk every day. Good, honest people are being terrorized into thinking that they are being targeted by the other race, and no one is stopping to think that the other side wants peace and justice just as badly as they do. But no one wants to read stories about communities living normal, peaceful lives. And so the bloodshed and violence continues.
This is not a local issue. Not anymore.
The rise of Black Lives Matter has brought a new consciousness to the violence that the state creates, but simple tribalism ‘us vs. them’ issues have warped and corroded what the people are actually protesting against. Protesters are lining the streets, blocking freeways. But they aren’t outside the El Cajon Jail, where hundreds of people are arrested for nonviolent offenses. They are questioning the race of the officers rather than the system that put them there.
Police brutality affects people of all races. Just ask Jeremy Mardis. Or Carolinmar Torres. But police brutality isn’t just bad cops or wrongful deaths. Police brutality is having your right to gainful employment being sold back to you in the form of a license. Police brutality is the Pentagon “losing” 6.5 trillion dollars in a nation almost 20 trillion in debt. We are all victims of police and state sponsored brutality. But according to the media, “the other” is who we need to be afraid of. And when tragedy strikes home, each side picks up the media playbook and jumps headfirst into violence and intolerance.
Racial policing is not an issue that libertarians can afford to ignore right now. Your voice is needed in your community. Encourage rational thought, whether it be about the circumstances of a police shooting, or how government price controls and gentrification are destroying low-income, minority communities. Reach out in your community and start honest conversations about the issues. Form bonds that will encourage people to think beyond the media narrative. Because your community will not be exempt from this. I thought mine was. Now, I’m trapped between conservatives who want to mow down protesters and radical demagogues determined to get their warped view of justice. The only way to prevent this is to fight back against media hysterics and encourage others to think freely. It’s time to take a stand against the hate.
* Dean Lockwood is a student of mechanical engineering at the University of San Diego. Born and raised in Southern California, equal amounts of punk culture and Mexican heritage made liberty an obvious choice. When not in class or the Dean’s Office, Dean usually is reading up on world news, working with his family, or riding horses.
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