Still another fleeing African American has been shot dead by police despite a Supreme Court decision strictly limiting the use of deadly force in such circumstances, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
Although reports – and even video recordings – of the events are unclear, it appears that Rayshard Brooks, a Black man, was shot by Atlanta police while fleeing to avoid arrest. Some reports claim that he was shot in the back while fleeing, while others suggest that he turned somewhat and may have pointed a Taser he took from one of the officers.
But in a famous case known as Tennessee v. Garner, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer may use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect only if the officer has a good-faith belief that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
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While it is possible for a Taser to cause serious injury or even death, such consequences are very rare. Indeed, says Banzhaf, some police departments require new officers to be shot with a Taser so that they will know what it feels like, and the effect it is likely to have on a suspect. TV reporters have also demonstrated it’s effects by being short with it on air.
Also, it is not clear whether Brooks was close enough that the Taser he held in his hand could have reached to an officer or any third person.
Deadly force and the law
So it would certainly initially appear, says Banzhaf, that the shooting may have been unconstitutional and therefore illegal, and that there would be at least enough evidence to justify the arrest of the officer responsible, pending a further investigation.
This legal analysis could be important because Banzhaf has frequently argued that many earlier controversial shootings, by both police and civilians, were lawful.
The law professor, who has written extensively about shootings, has also developed a simple aide to help educate and remind all drivers – perhaps especially those who are young, persons of color, etc. – how to act when stopped by police officers so as to minimize any chances of being shot.
It is a short set of instructions which can be downloaded and printed for free, and designed to be mounted on both sides of both front-window sun visors where they will be readily visible to the driver and front-seat passenger at all times in the event that a car is stopped by the police.
This life-saving information can be downloaded for free from