NEW YORK –
When police confronted the white man suspected of murdering 10 black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, he was exactly the billboard for armed and dangerous, holding an AR-15 style rifle and clad in body armor and hatred.
But officers spoke to Payton Gendron, convinced him to put down his gun, and arrested him without firing a shot. Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia cited their training that day, calling it “an amazing act of bravery.”
In a country where black people have been killed in clashes with the police for minor traffic violations, or no violations at all, the question begs: Where is that training, that determined adherence to protocol, when it comes to them?
“It’s important to emphasize that this is not about why the police don’t kill white racist terrorists,” said Qasim Rashid, a human rights lawyer and satellite radio host who posted on social media on the topic. “Why can’t that same restraint and control be applied to a situation involving an unarmed black person?”
He and others pointed to a litany of examples of white men being calmly taken into police custody after shootings, including Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people at a South Carolina church in 2015; Robert Aaron Long, who killed eight people at massage parlors in Georgia last year; Patrick Crusius, who is accused of killing 23 people in a racist attack on a 2019 El Paso, Texas, Walmart; and Kyle Rittenhouse, whose attempt to surrender immediately after shooting three white people at a protest in Wisconsin was rejected. Meanwhile, George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Tamir Rice and a host of other black people have been killed at the hands of the police when initial conditions were much less unstable.
“There’s just a stark contrast between how a Kyle Rittenhouse or a Payton Gendron is treated by the system in these incidents and how a black man is treated in general,” said Insha Rahman, vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute. — a national nonprofit research and advocacy group focused on criminal justice.
Rahman said there are many similarities in the public perception of the two cases. Rittenhouse walked over to the police with an AR-15-style rifle slung over his shoulder, his hands up. He testified at the trial that the police told him to “go home”, and he turned himself in the next day. He was acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense.
“A few people said at the time that if Kyle Rittenhouse was a young black man, he wouldn’t have left Kenosha that night. He might never have made it to trial,” she said.
Rahman also warned not to view high-profile incidents in a vacuum. She said people should think about everyday interactions with the police, which, along with arrests, are taking place at a disproportionate and often more dangerous level for black people.
The difference has been noticed in Buffalo, said Jillian Hanesworth, 29, the city’s poet and director of leadership development at Open Buffalo, a nonprofit that focuses on social justice and community development.
“We see how black and brown people are treated by the police,” she said, saying that the police do not hesitate to “take deadly action against black and brown people.”
Mart Sabelli, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said there has historically been a racial divide in the US that affects every aspect of the criminal justice process.
“The perception of racism is perpetuated because it is rooted in a reality,” Sabelli said, noting that the impact of implicit bias on policing has been extensively studied. “We are unfortunately in the process of reversing decades or even longer of explicit racism in many police forces across the country and that is often exacerbated by implicit biases that exist on a subconscious level. And unfortunately it erodes these encounters by subconsciously targeting agents. moves believe that a person of color is more dangerous than a white person.”
Frank Straub, director of the National Policing Institute Center for Targeted Violence Prevention, said he hoped there would be a rethink of how police respond to situations, in the wake of what the public has seen in recent years of disparate treatment.
“Maybe the fact that these videos are out there…hopefully influence how officers are trained to respond to arrest situations,” he said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization dedicated to improving the professionalism of police work, said Buffalo’s Gramaglia asked his group for help with de-escalation training as a deputy commissioner last year.
The specific training is known as ICAT, for integrating communication evaluation and tactics. Wexler’s group trained Buffalo’s police trainers in the tactics in February 2021, he said, adding that the department had not yet completed that training with all of its officers.
“That gives you a sense of how the department thought,” Wexler said. “It’s communication, slowing things down, using time and distance and taking cover, rather than rushing into a situation.”
“I think you have to look at the facts, training and tactics and realize that every situation is different,” Wexler said. He noted that a guard, who was a former police officer, fired at the gunman as he walked down the aisles in Tops Friendly Market. The guard was killed.
“But the situation has changed,” he said. “I don’t know all the facts, but when the suspect came out, officers may have had a different perception of whether he posed an immediate threat.”
Lauer reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press video journalist Noreen Nasir contributed from Buffalo.