I spent last Friday night watching cable news coverage of the terrorist attack at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that resulted in the deaths of Jennifer Markovsky, a 35-year-old mother of two; Ke’Arre Stewart, a 29-year-old father of two; and a 44-year-old police officer, Garrett Swasey. Nine others were wounded.
I saw this coverage through the lens of a race- and gender-conscious Black man who just that morning watched White Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald 16 times. In the audio version of the infamous video I could see the Black teen get shot to the ground and hear the gunshots Van Dyke fired into his lifeless body. This version further highlighted the brutality of the killing.
So as commentators described the five-hour standoff at the Planned Parenthood facility, I couldn’t help but compare how police treated the Colorado Springs mass shooter and the Chicago teen carrying a knife he’d allegedly used to break into cars and slash the tire of a squad car pursuing him.
In a time of countless viral videos of Black bodies slain in the streets by police who claim to fear for their lives, the Colorado Springs terrorist—a disheveled White man identified as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear Jr.—was taken alive.
On CNN, experts in hostage negotiation spoke of Dear’s “choices” as presented by the police officers who worked tirelessly to bring the siege to resolution. Dear, the analysts said, had the option of either leaving the building alive or being killed inside. The gunman was given a choice to live after he chose to exert his violent, toxic White masculinity onto vulnerable Planned Parenthood clients and workers doing their part to safeguard and support women’s access to reproductive health care.
That Planned Parenthood site had been the target of weekly protests since anti-abortion activists from the Center for Medical Integrity posed as fetal tissue procurers, secretly videotaped discussions with Planned Parenthood doctors and deceptively edited the footage to make it seem like the doctors were illegally selling what anti-choice media calls ”baby parts.” Dear, who upon capture reportedly told police ”No more baby parts,” entered the building with the explicit intent to shoot anyone in his path.
In Chicago, McDonald was walking several feet away from Officer Van Dyke when he was suddenly shot 16 times. His killing is a grim echo of other sudden police slayings of Black people, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland playground, 22-year-old Johnathan Crawford in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart, and Miriam Carey, 34, at the nation’s capitol.
As a Black man it’s been amazing to see how a coordinated response by law enforcement can either spare a life or take one. The deciding factor seems to be the race of the person in question. In both private conversations and on social media Black people are talking about the double standard, but not many in the so-called mainstream seem to see them.
I think about the peaceful capture of Dylann Roof, the young White man who walked into Emmanuel AME church in Charleston and killed nine Black worshippers. Another peaceful resolution occurred on Thanksgiving day. This time Joseph Anthony Caputo, a 23-year-old White man draped in an American flag, scaled a White House fence with the First Family inside. Authorities said Caputo intended to die, yet he too managed to live be safely escorted off the grounds. One can only imagine the outcome had the fence-scaler been Black.
Seemingly every week Black people are routinely stripped of their humanity regardless of their transgression. Police kill us, oftentimes on video for all the world to see, but we receive less collective outrage from “mainstream” America than Zimbabwe’s slain lion Cecil. Simply put, we are not seen as valuable enough to keep alive to stand trial.
As America discusses the motive and background of Robert Lewis Dear—his mental state, how his mother feels, his irrational anger at the Obama administration and the various criminal complaints against him for domestic violence, shooting a neighbor’s dog, and peeping at a neighbor—the conversation is still about a human being.
Countless Black people killed by police aren’t treated so humanely.
Byron Hurt is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer and anti-sexist activist. Hurt is directing his forthcoming film, “Hazing: How Badly Do You Want In?”