Michael Brown, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Daunte Wright were all Black men killed by police, but they had something else in common: All sought to avoid being taken into custody by fleeing, fighting or refusing to heed officers’ instructions.
The “systemic racism” narrative touted by Black Lives Matter and the Biden administration to explain police use of force against Black victims is drawing pushback as resisting arrest emerges as a factor in many if not most high-profile cases.
“While there have certainly been exceptions to this rule, often involving officers who were rapidly punished, it is not a misread that a huge percentage of prominent BLM cases — Jacob Blake, Hakim Littleton, Rayshard Brooks, Michael Brown — involve people fighting the police or at least actively resisting arrest,” said Wilfred Reilly, an associate professor of political science at Kentucky State University.
Take the case of Rayshard Brooks. He was being handcuffed June 12 by Atlanta police for a suspected DUI after falling asleep in the drive-thru line at a Wendy’s when he grabbed an officer’s Taser and ran. He was shot and killed after he turned around and fired the Taser.
Jacob Blake was shot and left paralyzed Aug. 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after he bolted from officers and reached into his car, where he had a knife. Daunte Wright was shot and killed April 11 near Minneapolis when he jumped back into his car during a traffic stop after police found he had an outstanding felony warrant.
In the Wright case, the police chief said the officer accidentally fired her handgun instead of her Taser, but in all the incidents, there exists at least the possibility that the victim would have been unharmed if he had complied with police orders.
“At least some of these tragedies would be avoided if suspects followed the old principle, ‘Comply now, complain later,’” said U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Peter Kirsanow.
“Unfortunately, the present effort to demonize and delegitimize police authority suggests resistance is justified, thereby increasing the probability of even more incidents.”
Randy Petersen, senior researcher at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said that police typically use force in three situations: when a suspect is resisting arrest, attacking another person, or presenting a threat to the officer.
“If you just took those three things, that’s a much better predictor of a police officer using force than the race of the officer or the race of the offender,” Mr. Petersen said. “Almost all of these situations have the same underlying factor. Police officers’ use of force has to be reasonable, and in some of these cases, the officers’ use of force even when it is reasonable, has been attacked.”
He said suspects “almost never” escape successfully in such situations, and yet even Michigan state Rep. Jewell Jones was accused of trying it after driving his truck into a ditch April 6 while drunk.
Mr. Jones was charged with resisting and obstructing arrest, as well as reckless driving and weapons charges, after being wrestled to the ground by two officers who told him to “stop resisting,” as shown on policy bodycam footage released last weekend.
During the arrest, he also dropped Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s name and told the officers that “it’s not going to be good for you, I’m telling you,” because “I run y’all’s budget, bro.” A handgun was found in his truck’s cupholder.
“If that was a winning model, running or fighting with the police, then I guess they would have a point in trying it. What do you have to lose?” said Mr. Petersen, who spent 21 years on the force in Bloomington, Illinois. “But for the most part, it’s always a losing proposition.”
Why try it? Aside from the obvious desire to escape arrest, theories include a breakdown in respect for all authority figures, including police, as well as a heightened fear of police in the Black community from generations of racist law enforcement.
“We have seen unfortunately a number of persons of color being injured or killed in police encounters,” said Frank Straub, director of the National Police Foundation Center for Mass Violence Response Studies. “And so I think from a police stand on it, we have to understand that that concern is there, and go into those situations with that understanding.”
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon told staff in December that he would not prosecute resisting arrest, as well as drug possession and making criminal threats, while activists have called for decriminalization of resisting arrest, citing cases such as Floyd’s.
Floyd struggled against being placed in a squad car during a May 25 arrest and died as an officer kneeled on his neck or back for more than nine minutes. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted last week of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.
In the mass protests that followed, resisting arrest became something of a badge of honor for Black Lives Matter and Antifa activists who crossed the line from peacefully demonstrating to rioting and targeting police facilities.
“Unfortunately, there is a perception, not just in communities of color but just on the street, that ‘I don’t have to comply, I can resist,’” Mr. Straub said. “I think that that perception is extremely dangerous and leads to force being used unnecessarily by both citizens and by the police.”
Six people were shot and killed by police in the 24 hours after the Chauvin verdict, five of whom were reportedly armed, according to The Associated Press. They included 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who was attacking another girl with a knife when she was shot in Columbus, Ohio.
Her case has spurred protests, as has the police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, New Jersey, as he tried to drive away after officers sought to serve arrest and search warrants at his home.
Prominent Black leaders such as former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have exacerbated the situation by pushing the racism narrative instead of sending a message of “comply and you won’t die,” said Los Angeles radio talk-show host Larry Elder.
“If young blacks are taught by respected leaders like Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and Eric Holder that the police routinely engage in ‘systemic racism,’ why should a young Black man comply when he or she has an encounter with the inherently ‘racist’ police?” Mr. Elder said in an email.
The focus on such shootings has also fed an unrealistic view of how common they are. A Manhattan Institute poll released earlier this month found eight in 10 Black Americans believe young Black men are more likely to be shot by police than killed in traffic accidents, when the opposite is true.
“The likelihood of a young black man dying from a car accident is considerably higher than his being killed by police,” the report said.
In fact, the odds of anyone of any race being killed by police, especially while unarmed, “is on the order of one in half a million — and this tiny risk drops to almost nothing in the absence of intense resistance,” Mr. Reilly said.
“Probably the best advice that could be given to young males of any race is: Simply obey any lawful order from the police and, if you find them to be harsh or abusive, ‘tell it to the judge’ or to your lawyer later on — when everyone is home safe,” he said.