Even if police did everything right, eighth-grader's death is wrong


Gary Dop is a poet and an English professor at North Central University in Minneapolis.

It's been a week since police in Brownsville, Texas, shot and killed a 15-year-old boy who refused to drop a weapon that turned out to be a pellet gun. Police said they gave the boy numerous opportunities to drop the gun before they opened fire.

I was shocked by how many people vilified the eighth-grader. While all accounts indicate that the officers acted according to protocol, the media coverage and general conversation seem to be overly focused on defending the officers.

I have three daughters, and every time there's a gun involved in a school anywhere, I think of them: What if my daughter was in the room? What if my daughter knew the boy? What if my daughter had been holding the pellet gun?

The morning after the shooting, I heard two radio jockeys defend the officers as heroes and blast the eighth-grader for his stupidity. The next day, I overheard a couple in the grocery store discussing the shooting. One said, "If you're dumb enough to wave a gun, don't be surprised when you get killed."

I know it's important to support police officers. But police officers don't make decisions based on whether or not the public will defend them. They know their decisions will be and should be scrutinized.

We need to allow time for other perspectives, because there's more to the story. The boy's devastated parents must have the opportunity to ask, "Why is it ever OK to shoot an eighth-grader? Why is my child dead?"

They will likely never find an acceptable answer.

The officer's "right decision," as it's been called, is also the wrong decision. An eighth-grader with a pellet gun should never be shot and killed. On the other hand, an eighth-grader who will not put down a pellet gun that looks like a real gun will almost always be shot and killed.

Pellet guns shouldn't look real. They should be painted in bright colors. But that attempt at a constructive suggestion misses the point.

The real question is an ethical conundrum: Is it ever right to shoot an eighth grader who is armed with a pellet gun? The answer is "no." It is allowable, and perhaps understandable given the circumstances, but it is not right. It can't be.

I grow weary hearing people dismiss the eighth-grader as a fool. Perhaps every decision he made in this process indicates his youthful idiocy, but this is nothing to celebrate. A child — a Cummings Junior High School drum major — is dead.

I doubt the officers want our congratulations. This justifiable thing they did will likely haunt them more than it will ever honor them.

As for me, I'll pick up my daughter from school today, nod if I see the security officer, and I'll hug my daughter tighter than usual. And I'll empathize with a father in Texas who can't understand what none of us would be able to understand in his place.

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