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An open letter to Jon Tunheim

Congratulations on the Ryan Donald decision

Dear Mr. Tunheim,

I was pleased today to see that the prosecutor’s office had finally come to a decision on the May 21 shooting of Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson. It’s about time that we get some results from that investigation. I noted with more than a little irony that while the two young men were the ones who had to go to the hospital with gunshot wounds and the officer had none, they were the ones who had the assault charge levied against them.

Your determination that the officer in question, Ryan Donald, acted “in good faith” make me seriously question your definition of “faith.” I understand the officer was responding to a report of stolen goods, as well as assault, and that the officer “feared for his life” at the brandishing of a skateboard. He felt so threatened that he felt shooting blindly at the victims (and they are victims, regardless of whether they were also in the wrong) was the fastest way to end the conflict.

I do not have a problem with our police officers being equipped to engage in street-battles if necessary, and having access to high-powered weapons and ammo, as well as tactical gear and bullet-proof vests would probably save a lot of people’s lives in the case of a zombie outbreak or a Trump rally. However, this is 2015. Non-lethal means are available. Bean-bag guns, tazers, net-guns, tranquilizers, and other means are available. Given the burden on the taxpayer to already pay for and support the police through various taxes, it makes much more sense to exhaust non-lethal means to end an altercation first, rather than to create an additional burden on the taxpayer by filling up emergency rooms and hospitals with bullet-riddled suspects. Had the officer better training or been more skilled at hand-to-hand combat, perhaps he would not be afraid of a skateboard, or perhaps he would have been more confident in his ability to be able to disarm the young men and take away their perceived “weapon”.

Or perhaps, the problem lies in the readily available lethal means the officers carry on their hips which seem to be more of a go-to in a stressful situation than the ability to think rationally. It’s no secret that the police force turns away the more intelligent applicants, those who might hesitate to use force in a situation like the one that occurred on that fateful day. I understand the reasoning behind this, to a degree. However, in light of the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office today, I would like to say that questions still remain.

Questions like: How is it that we are hiring police officers who are unable to deal with 21 and 24-year olds? These young men weren’t MMA fighters. The Officer claims that Chaplin was holding him while Thompson rushed him with a skateboard. Then he shot Chaplin, the man who was holding him. He didn’t shoot Thompson, the man he claimed was actually brandishing a skateboard at him. He shot the unarmed man that was holding him, which caused the pair to run away. His story is that after they ran away from bullets, they came back. It was only at that point he shot the man with the perceived weapon, the only possible moment that would have been justified in the entire altercation for use of deadly force. After that, he shot at the unarmed 21-year old again. Three rounds of shots fired, two of them at an unarmed man when non-lethal force could have been used.

The shooting was not justified. The officer had his reasons, but that’s not the same thing as being justified. The reasoning was poor. They weren’t good reasons. If scared little police officers are going to pull their gun whenever they feel like their lives might be in danger, then we need to remove the guns from our police officers. I think as a culture, we’re all a lot more on board with hundreds of people getting pepper-sprayed, bean-bagged, or tazed than we are with another single unarmed suspect having metal literally forced through their organs. Because as citizens of the United States, we do have second amendment right to bear arms.

Because this system of police brutality, and the justification of their violent actions is reaching a point that’s really starting to scare people. And, as you well know, scared people with guns tend to shoot other people a hell of a lot more often than not.

Benjamin Ortlip is a local stand-up comedian, Evergreen State College Alumni, and US Air Force Veteran. He has lived and taken part in the Olympia community for over five years. He is currently employed.


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