The police serve as a protective shield for citizens from the threat of crime in a society. Especially in the United States, police officers are always armed with guns because a vast number of violent criminals like burglars, murderers and gang members make use of guns to commit crimes. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, police officers are allowed to shoot a suspect in order to protect themselves. Unfortunately, once a bullet leaves a gun, it always flies to its target, be it a violent criminal or an innocent citizen. Therefore, if an innocent citizen does not resolve the misunderstanding or fails to comply with an officer’s orders, he or she can be shot to death.
In late October, a 13 year-old boy, Andy Lopez, was shot to death by the sheriff’s deputy of Sonoma County, Calif. At approximately 3 p.m., Lopez was carrying an unfolded plastic replica of an AK-47, a common assault rifle, to his friend’s house. Two sheriff’s deputies who were on patrol duty spotted Lopez and immediately confronted him. After taking cover behind the police car, the senior sheriff deputy shouted out, “Put the gun down!” twice. However, instead of dropping the toy gun, Lopez, according to the sheriff, tried to aim the toy gun at the senior deputy. Unaware that the gun was a toy, the senior deputy feared for his life and opened fire. Seven bullets out of eight hit Lopez. He died immediately at the scene. After the incident, both the senior deputy and his partner were placed on administrative leave, which is the usual procedure after an officer shoots someone. Also, the incident is currently being investigated by the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Unsurprisingly, the local community was furious. Many community members, including Lopez’s family and friends, asserted that deputies had no reason to use deadly force on Lopez. This was primarily because anyone could easily recognize that Lopez was only a child, especially during the day. Furthermore, Elbert Howard, a founding member of the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline of Sonoma County, responded, “He’s a child, and he had a toy. I see that as an overreaction to shoot him down.”
On the other side, the sheriff’s office announced that the two deputies did not have any procedural problem during the incident. Sheriff’s Lt. Dennis O’Leary said that they immediately called for backup and repeatedly ordered Lopez to drop the “gun.” Although other circumstantial details heavily relied on testimonies of the deputies at the scene, it is highly doubtful that the senior deputy opened fire without following proper procedures.
Frankly, I believe this incident is tragic not only because the victim was a child but also because no one should be blamed for this incident. As previously mentioned, police officers are only allowed to use a firearm in order to protect themselves. Furthermore, the police have implemented definite procedures to minimize the number of innocent victims. Most importantly, this procedure does not discriminate against people based on age, gender or race. In other words, it does not matter whether a person with a deadly weapon is man, woman, Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Caucasian, old or young. As long as a person with a deadly weapon possesses a significant possibility to use a deadly weapon, police officers have no choice but to use extreme measures.
Of course, the deputies could have lowered their guard to Lopez. However, hypothetically speaking, what if Lopez was a member of a criminal organization? According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, gangs allow little children, including elementary school kids, to join an organization. They do this so they can exploit these children to do their dirty work. Had this been the case, there is a significant possibility that the senior deputy would have become the victim in this incident. Moreover, his partner was the rookie cop who did not have enough experience on the streets. Therefore, the safety of his partner also depended on his judgment in a very short moment. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 120 police officers died on the job in 2012 alone. Even with all the precautions and preparations for a worst-case scenario, numerous police officers did not come back to their family. Thus, it is understandable that the senior deputy cannot take any risk during the situation.
Clearly, Lopez was just an innocent child who was visiting his friend’s house. Unfortunately, Lopez did not drop his “gun,” and the tragedy occurred. Anyhow, if the deputy opened fire without following proper procedures, he must be blamed for his act. However, considering the circumstances, the senior deputy judged that necessary measures must be taken to protect himself and his partner.
Alex Cho is a sophomore political science major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected]