It was about 3 o’clock in the morning in Yakima, Washington when Officer Casey Gilette was on patrol and noticed a car parked outside a car wash. Apparently, the car had been parked there for an hour. So, Officer Gilette approached the vehicle on foot and opened the passenger side door and saw a man holding a gun. The gun turned out to be a plastic, orange-tipped Airsoft gun, but before that detail was confirmed, the patrolling officer fired four shots and eventually hit the man in the car Rocendo Arias in the head, killing him.
Thanks to the police union contract that covers this department, officers involved in shootings like this have 48 hours to come up with their side of the story. Since the shooting about a week ago, Officer Gilette has been on administrative leave pending the department’s investigation of him. As it stands now, however, his department is backing him up and saying that he acted appropriately.
This case is similar to what happened to a young teenager in California who was walking around with a toy rifle. Police shot and killed him, because they believed the gun to be real, and the kid apparently didn’t put the gun down when commanded to by the police.
We can argue all day about whether it was a wise thing to do for this teenager in California or this individual in Washington to be carrying toy guns in public. The greater point here is why being in possession of a gun, real or not, is automatically assumed to be something only a criminal would do, and therefore deserving instant execution.
There are some obvious details left out of the report of this incident in Washington. Did the officer order Arias to drop his weapon? Or did he just overreact and start shooting? Was Arias pointing his toy weapon at the officer? Was Arias threatening the officer? We don’t know yet. But apparently, Arias was assembling the toy gun, as later, investigators found discarded packaging for various toy gun accessories in the car. So, he was holding it, but it wasn’t even completely assembled. As for what he was doing with this toy gun while parked at a car wash at 3am we’ll perhaps never know, since he’s not alive to tell us about it.
People will respond that Yakima is a crime-ridden city, and that that’s enough reason to defend the policeman who shot Arias prematurely.
But would people defend a non-cop if a similar situation unfolded? What if the car wash owner were there at his own establishment and noticed this man on his property? What if this owner went to investigate and also acted prematurely and shot and killed the man in the car? Would people rush to defend the car wash owner on the basis that it’s a crime-ridden city? I highly doubt it. I think the incident would be used to talk about how much we need gun control. “If that owner had not been able to purchase a weapon, an innocent man would still be alive today.” Or perhaps they’d bring up how the Zimmerman verdict has emboldened people across the country to become hardened vigilantes.
Of course, those who are defending the Yakima cop bring up Arias’s less-than-stellar history. He apparently had a DUI in 2012 and a pending third-degree theft charge stemming from an incident last October.
But see, all these cases do, especially if the shooting officer is ultimately found to have acted appropriately and according to protocol, is make it so that anyone carrying objects that look like guns are fair game to be shot at by police, regardless of whether the carrier has a criminal record or not.
We already know that carrying real weapons is sufficient reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed (though it shouldn’t be). Now, we’re just waiting for a court ruling that states that carrying toy weapons is not only reasonable suspicion of a crime, but also grounds for immediate execution.