This is a post about two men in Utah, but it’s also more than that.
It’s two stories, in two different cities, involving two suspects that weren’t very different at all in the big scheme of things. Both suspects had a history of mental illness. Both had a criminal record. Both had a record of substance abuse. Both had a confrontation with police.
But only one of the men walked away alive from their confrontation.
It was the man on the left, Guy Frothingham.
He was the one holed up in a trailer, taking shots at the police with an AK-47 and .32-caliber pistol.
Guy Fotheringham saw the best Utah law enforcement had to offer.
On December 2, in St. George, Utah, 59-year-old Guy Fotheringham got in a fight with a neighbor, forcing his way into a home and remaining there, armed with his AR-15 and a .32-caliber pistol. After an 11 hour stand-off in which between eight and 10 rounds (and possibly more) were aimed at law enforcement, Fotheringham surrendered to police, who were “very gentle” according to witnesses.
Fotheringham was a convicted felon on probation for crimes he committed back in 1997. Police knew he wasn’t supposed to have guns in the first place.
Police took the time to find out that he was more than just a convicted felon who’d taken a hostage — he was also a war veteran who was allegedly diagnosed with PTSD.
“Officers treated (the suspect) with utmost gentleness when he came out,” St. George Vet Center Readjustment Counselor Bruce Solomon told St. George News. “He was very gently treated, with bracelets, and then, as they promised him, I was immediately given access to him as soon as he was handcuffed.”
And even though they brought out the SWAT vehicles with the heavy armor and artillery — they didn’t need it. They did everything in their power to avoid pulling the trigger, although they did manage to try to fill his trailer with pepper spray and used a few other tried-and-true SWAT methods to force him out of the home.
During parts of the standoff, a female police officer attempted to communicate with the suspect via a bullhorn.
Fotheringham got to see the very best our police force in America has to offer. They responded to the situation with an astounding level of empathy — and they even called in an expert to get some help.
“We’re very pleased with how this turned out,” St. George Police Captain Mike Giles said. “It’s been a long morning for the officers involved … Everybody’s going home, everybody’s safe. He’s going to get some medical treatment and be evaluated, and I don’t see it happening any better than it has. This is a good resolution.”
The case of Darrien Hunt was one of many “shoot first, ask questions later” police shootings of young, black men in recent months.
Darrien Hunt, as a young, black man was afforded no stand-off leading to a gentle surrender.
There was no mental health professional called in and assess the situation, no family members called on the phone to come “talk him down”.
On September 10, in Saratoga Springs, Utah, 22-year-old Darrien Hunt was wielding a “samurai-type” sword in public when he was confronted and shot down by police. Police say he brandished the sword and lunged at the officers, at which point they opened fire on him. His family says that witnesses saw Hunt running from the officers as they fired on him.
In the blink of an eye, Hunt, who had a misdemeanor on his criminal record (soon to be expunged) was shot six times. In the back.
100 yards away from the location of the confrontation, in front of the Panda Express at a suburban strip mall, he dropped dead.
The rationale that Hunt was a menace, and the police were doing the world a favor by shooting him, was apparent in the media coverage of the case. Hunt, a young black man who wasn’t just black — but also different — was dressed in a cheesy suit, his cosplay-type clothing like something out of a comic book — and holding a dull-edged sword.
When questioned, Hunt, whose family has described as “eccentric” and “child-like” didn’t respond appropriately to the police when questioned. Instead of empathy, or a mental health intervention, he was immediately judged as a menace that needed to be neutralized:
Corporal Matt Schauerhamer asked Hunt to place the sword on his patrol car while they talked, but Hunt refused.
“I can’t do that,” Hunt said, according to the documents. “It’s my sword.”
The court records state that Hunt then explained that he was looking for a ride to Orem, and Schauerhamer offered to give him one, as long he handed over his sword.
According to a report by Fox News, Officer Schauerhamer, one of the cops who shot Hunt, said he knew he “had to stop Hunt before he was able to hurt or kill someone.” He had no time to be patient, call for backup, or try pursuit.
“In an effort to better understand what happened, investigators said they want to review Hunt’s social media activity and cell phone records to figure out what his state of mind was before the shooting,” Fox explains, asking us to give the officers more time to justify an unnecessary shooting. “I think what’s important in that is that it appears from what the police are saying that he may have had some either reckless, or potentially suicidal tendencies during those last few days,” a local attorney, Greg Skordas, said about the case.
(Surely, if they can figure out what Hunt was thinking before they shot him dead, they’ll be able to provide more justification for their execution. )
Saratoga Springs is the same Confederate-flag waving community that voted Mia Love into office, by the way. The town, which is 95% white, can’t remember there ever being a prior police shooting.
“Obviously, when you’re looking at any incident where you have a dead black kid and white officers you’re going to say what going on? Is it a similar situation in Ferguson? Only in that sense,” Randall Edwards, an attorney for Hunt’s family told MSNBC. “Saratoga Springs, Utah, is not Ferguson, Missouri. Officers here don’t have a long history with confrontations with a minority population. That’s what we don’t have. What we do have are a lot of questions of what’s going on and why did this happen.I think that the family, the last thing they would ever want to do is cause or exacerbate race relations in Utah.”
They say that just because the first shooting by a cop was a black man — it doesn’t make the whole town racist.
Hunt’s family has also been adamant that they believe his race played a role in the shooting.
His mother, Susan Hunt, who happens to be white, insisted he was killed “because he’s black.”
“I’m in Saratoga Springs, cause it’s a safe little community and they killed him. They killed my son because he’s black,” she told the Deseret News. “No white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away.”
In the war on crime and drugs, the enemy’s face has always been portrayed as black.
As foot soldiers in the “war on drugs”, is it any surprise, really, that police are constantly seeking out that face as a suspect in public places? Racial profiling, if nothing else, is a convenient way for police to round up suspects. American police arrest black people, a lot. They are also far more likely to kill dark-skinned suspects than white, according to ProPublica:
The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.
The American justice system also locks up more black people than any other race — over a million of the 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country are black. The United States has locked up more people than any other country, even a half million more than China.
Policies of American policing have been revealed as inherently racist when it comes to drug law enforcement. The war on pot is a perfect example of this — marijuana use is roughly equal among blacks and whites, yet blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.
If we think of the cops in the context as the soldiers in the “war on drugs” — what we see is a police force that is truly frightening and filled with systemic discrimination and institutionalized racism. They have spent the past three decades fighting a “drug war” that has disproportionately jailed and disenfranchised young black men at outrageous rates.
As more states decriminalize marijuana and end a legacy of racially-charged enforcement policies, our justice system’s focus will be shifting.
It seems for progress there will need to be more of natural drift toward outrage. There’s a a whole lot of Americans that thinks one death that could have been prevented is one too many. No more Trayvon Martins. No more Michael Browns. No more Tamir Rices. No more Darrien Hunts.
They are just as important as all the Guy Fotheringhams. It’s time for the police to make that a policy: Black lives matter.