Every time I see Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks on the news, I think of a single thing the cop said to me in my own gun incident a few months back. I hope I am not over-personalizing the issue of police shootings, and, when I get to it, I think you will see that my own experience was not parallel to the other three. In fact that’s the point. But to get there, I have to tell a painfully embarrassing story on myself.
I was walking my two dogs in my neighborhood in East Dallas, midway between White Rock Lake and downtown. A pit bull charged out of a driveway and attacked us. My smaller dog, Penny, tried to flee, and the bigger one, Dorothy, fought. I was tangled in the leashes, kicking and shouting at the dog.
Dorothy fought off the pit bull for a while, but the pit made a quick move, locked its broad jaws on Dorothy’s neck, and began the quick, powerful shaking that a dog does to snap the neck of prey. I saw blood on both dogs. I thought the pit was killing Dorothy.
I lost it. I reached into the snarling mess and grabbed the pit bull by the collar with both fists. It was a small dog for the breed. The pit released my dog, and I was able to hoist it up into the air. It twisted free, dropped to the ground, ran off a few paces, came back, lunged at my arm, missed, then retreated to the front porch of the house where I assumed it lived, and ran around in circles barking at me.
I live at the other end of the block. I got my dogs home. They were bleeding but unbowed. The pit bull was still running loose down at the other end of the street where many little kids live. I didn’t know the guy in the house or how to reach him to tell him to lock up his dog.
I started back out the door to go down there, then hesitated because I was afraid the dog would come after me again. And in that moment I made an incredibly stupid decision.
I went back into the house and grabbed my shotgun. And before I go another syllable with this, let me point out two things, one sort of stupid and the other significant. The first is that a 12-gauge pump shotgun is a pretty dumb weapon to take along if you think you might wind up with a pit bull attached to your ankle. How did I plan shoot the dog without blowing off my foot?
The second is this: I was confident I could walk down the street with a shotgun and not get blown away by somebody on sight. Was that because I was White? The question brings us a little closer to the point.
When I got to the house and rang the doorbell, the dog barreled out of the driveway and made another run at me. I stamped my foot, and it retreated. That shook me up. Just then the owner came to the door, and I told him I would shoot the dog if it attacked me again. He was calm and asked what had happened. The dog did not reappear.
Then I heard a very clear voice behind my back, like a bell: “Sir, put the firearm down right now.”
I didn’t have to ask. I didn’t have to wonder. It was a cop. He had rolled up behind me. He was out of the car. I figured I was dead.
I have always argued and still believe that any person stupid enough to put himself with a gun in his hand in front of a police officer is a dead man. I do not believe that a person with a gun in his hand deserves a second chance from a cop. I have covered a lot of cop stuff as a reporter. There are no Butch Cassidy gun fights out there. It’s all about who gets the drop. I think it is insane to ask a police officer to give the bad guy the drop. I was the bad guy.
By the way, I have been around guns most of my life. I worked on farms and ranches as a kid and always carried a rifle of some kind in my Jeep or pickup for varmints. Seldom shot a varmint. I liked most varmints. But I do believe in the right of private citizens to own guns. Maybe that’s a conversation for another day.
You better believe the instant I heard that cop’s voice, I put the gun down without turning my face around one sixteenth of an inch. And this all ended peaceably. More cops appeared. Calls were made. It was agreed I had broken no law. I had not pointed the gun at anyone or threatened anyone with it.
The dog owner told police he did not want to pursue the matter of my coming to his door with a shotgun. He explained that his dog, usually safely locked in the backyard, got out because workmen had left open the gate.
I told police I did not want to pursue the matter of being attacked by his dog. I did spend some time zip-tied in front of a patrol car in the middle of my street. I do not believe that this improved my image on the block, but I’m not sure how much it hurt. That’s not what bothers me.
This is the part that haunts — the one thing that keeps coming back when I see the police shootings on the news. When it was all over and time for me to go home, I said to the police officer who had told me to put down the gun that I felt I owed my life to him. And I thanked him for his restraint.
I’m leaving him blank here. He did everything right. I don’t feel right about dragging him personally into my drama. I’m not telling you his name, age, or race.
I don’t think he had any idea where I worked or that I was a journalist. He kept calling me Mr. Shultz, and I did not correct him.
When I told him I thought he might have been justified in shooting me, he said he had had a lot of training and experience. He said he had spent time in war. (I have not.) He knew what he was doing. And then he said this about shooting me: “If that had happened, I would have had to carry it with me the rest of my life.”
That’s the feeling that should always be in each and every one of our hearts every moment of every day. It should have been in my heart when I grabbed that shotgun. What if something terrible had happened? I needed to find some other way to resolve it. I could have gotten in my car, gone down there, and laid on the horn until the guy came out. Instead I put that cop in the position of having to wonder, if only for a split second, whether he was going home in one piece that night. Over a dogfight.
I am not putting this on the cop. I don’t know anything about him, other than that he seemed like a good guy. But I am haunted by this question. Did this end the way it did — me alive and not in jail — because I am White? I know my being White made me feel safe carrying a very visible firearm down the street in the first place. So did my being White make me harder to shoot?
Was the police officer who killed George Floyd or the police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks worried about having to live with their deaths? A stupid old White man standing on a porch with a shotgun, yelling at the homeowner. A Black man passed out drunk in a drive-through. Is one harder to shoot than the other?
I am not saying that’s what happened in my case. That would be very unfair to the cop, who did everything right. But my gut tells me it is true generally in the nation. And that’s not only an indictment of White cops. It’s an indictment of all of us White people who are protected by our skin color.