Dying Because You Fell Asleep in Your Car

Friday evening, Rayshard Brooks fell asleep behind the wheel of his car while in the drive-thru line at a Wendy's in Atlanta. A half-hour later, he was shot dead by the Atlanta Police.

My goal in this piece is to try to seek some understanding of this event. It is clear there bad behavior on both sides.

When other customers had to drive around the stopped car with Mr. Floyd sleeping inside, the Wendy's staff called the police. The video above shows what happened after the police arrived (I have also watched most of a second video, link below, of this same tragic event).

At Twitter, the opinions seem to have broken into two extremes:
  • The shooting was justified; he resisted arrest and stole a taser.
  • Racist police targeted and killed another black man. 
What went so terribly wrong seems more subtle to me. It does not seem to he racial in nature. 

The above video, the second video of this tragedy, and a personal experience with Wichita police lead me to a somewhat different conclusion: The policeman's behavior, which does not appear to be racist, does set the stage for the tragedy.

To me, the key is at the 2:23 mark in the video, "For more than 20 minutes, Rolfe interviews Brooks and conducts a field sobriety test." The second video shows more of that 'interview' which I have watched in its entirety. 

Even though Brooks is perfectly respectful and low key, Officer Rolfe screws with him. Being detained by police is stressful for anyone. The longer a policeman  -- for no apparent reason except, perhaps, to trip up Mr. Brooks in order to provide probable cause for an arrest -- asks the same questions over and over in the middle of a parking lot, tensions are going to increase. Perhaps that type of questioning is appropriate for a murder investigation but it does not seem appropriate on a Friday night in a Wendy's lot. 

I had a Wichita police officer do this to me on one occasion during a traffic stop. She kept asking completely impertinent questions: "Where do you work? What is your occupation? How long have you lived in Wichita? Where are you going?" While I kept my cool, I started to think, "She is a complete jerk." When it was finally over, I learned my passenger had come to the same conclusion. Her behavior both increased tension and decreased the respect I had for her as a member of the police force. 

Mr. Brooks says he is not feeling well and suggests he sleep it off in the parking lot. Considering the encounter with police began with a stopped car in the parking lot -- as opposed to driving on a street -- and the blood alcohol level was below what was considered intoxicated 20 years ago, sleeping it off seems like a perfectly good solution. The police also could have allowed him to call someone to come and pick him up. 

When they decide to put him in handcuffs, Brooks resists -- which is completely wrong on his part. But consider Minneapolis office Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd down with his knee on Floyd's neck after he was in handcuffs and continued to do so even while Floyd was saying, "I can't breathe." There is enough police misconduct that I would fear for my safety while in police custody these days. 

At the end of the video, there is a rather chilling exchange with a third officer who has come to the scene. The officer asks the condition of Mr. Brooks and the third officer says he doesn't care and that the officer "is my [only] concern." While the concern for his fellow officer is understandable, his lack of caring about the shooting and killing of a 27-year father of four, to me, sums up what is wrong with today's police departments. Thanks to this tragedy, four more black children will grow up without a father. 

Twenty years ago, I believe the police would have allowed Mr. Brooks to "sleep it off." The increasingly militaristic attitudes of today's police are not serving anyone well. 

Let me say it again: Resisting arrest is a terrible idea. Be peaceful and respectful and don't provoke police. Sort things out in court later. 

As to "20 Questions" from police, I've decided that, if stopped in the future, anything beyond the obvious questions (my name, etc.) pertinent to the issue at hand, questions will be answered with a respectful, "Officer, if you wish to know my employment or other information, please call my attorney" and then stand by that. 

I hope everyone will offer prayers for all concerned and that some good will come of this terrible event -- specially, that America's police departments rethink the way they do business. 


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