Most of the focus on deadly police violence that was preventable has come against unarmed Black people. And while cops did kill two Black folks on Thursday, the accused jewelry thieves who police say carjacked a UPS driver before leading them on a high-speed chase in South Florida appeared to be the types of targets you’d expect cops to end up shooting at.
But the pursuing officers didn’t just kill the suspects. The UPS driver and another driver who was not involved also died in the crossfire, unintended casualties in one of the more egregious examples of senseless police violence that ended up with innocent people dying.
Police identified Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill, both 41, as the suspects.
The UPS driver, Frank Ordonez, and Richard Cutshaw, who police said was just driving home from work, were also identified as the other two deaths in an episode that may have been prevented had standard police policy been followed.
In that respect, these police deaths in Florida from senseless gun violence actually have quite a lot in common with the trend of police shooting unarmed Black people. One of the hallmarks of the police shootings of Black people, many of which are deadly, are the ignorance of or unwillingness to follow standard police procedure and protocol during the most basic of encounters. However, in those instances, police have been able to consistently rely on the crutch of an excuse that they feared for their lives, a defense that has become all but foolproof in court — even, or especially, if the suspect has his or her hands up.
Of course, in the case of the high-speed chase on Thursday, the officers had a legitimate claim to fear for their lives. After all, news helicopters captured footage of police exchanging gunfire with shooters from inside the UPS truck.
But some of the commentary following the deadly chase has been about the choice of tactics police employed when they engaged the suspects on a highly populated highway during rush hour in a major metropolitan area. Not only was the jewelry stolen likely insured, but a helicopter was also following the UPS truck, providing a bird’s eye view that probably wouldn’t have allowed them to escape. That means that had cops fallen back, they still could have tracked the thieves and probably retrieved the jewelry. Instead, police decided to give chase and then do the unthinkable of using innocent civilians as shields while taking cover behind innocent drivers’ cars — something that may be to blame for Cutshaw dying. Amazingly, just one driver died, but it but easily could have been dozens of others.
It’s well known in and out of law enforcement circles that deaths typically happen because of police pursuits. And that is especially true in Florida, according to NBC Miami, which cited the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s statistics showing that “at least 196 people have been killed – innocent bystanders, suspects fleeing police and officers as well— in police pursuits documented from 2002 until 2015.”
The criticism of the cops from the family of Ordonez, the UPS driver, is all but an echo of the reactions we typically see from the families of the endless list of unarmed Black people killed by police.
In the latest instance, Ordonez’s stepfather said that the policer sho shot at the UPS truck showed “disregard for the people around the scene. They went out there like the old West.”
Naturally, the police have defended shooting at the UPS truck. But former Miami-Dade’s police chief Manny Orosa told CBS News: “If you’re shooting into a truck and you don’t have a clear vision of who you’re shooting at, you don’t just shoot at the truck.”
While there are too many police shootings of unarmed Black people to choose from, what Ordonez’s stepfather said could easily have been said after hearing about the shooting of Botham Jean, who was shot and killed by then-Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger within seconds of her seeing the 28-year-old in his own apartment that she purportedly mistook for her own. During her trial, after which she was convicted of murder and sent to prison for a decade, a parade of law enforcement experts took the stand to testify that Guyger had plenty of other choices that she was trained to resort to before using lethal force.
So, too, did the police in Florida on Thursday. But if history is any indication, much like with those officers involved in the preventable deadly shootings of Black people, the Florida officers will probably escape accountability.
This is America.