The tragic death of Kevin Peterson Jr. in a police shooting has generated much-needed discussions that can help bring our community together. It also has generated behavior that can tear that community apart.
Peterson, a 21-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by Clark County sheriff’s deputies Oct. 29 in Hazel Dell. An investigation determined that the shooting followed a planned sale of 50 Xanax pills between Peterson and a confidential informant.
Three deputies fired a total of 34 rounds at Peterson, striking him four times. The investigation did not indicate that Peterson fired a gun that was in his possession, disputing earlier assertions from law enforcement. Results have been sent to an outside prosecutor, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office.
In the process, Clark County has been thrust into a national discussion about racial justice and police behavior. While such discussions are inevitably tense and emotional, they also call for calm and rational discord.
Indeed, the incident must be added to ongoing evaluations of police training and procedures. Whether or not Peterson fired his gun, the fact that a weapon was visible to police is certain to draw a response; officers do not have the luxury of waiting to see whether a suspect is going to shoot and often must make split-second life-or-death decisions.
But the extent of the response requires scrutiny. Officers fired 34 times in a public location, and 30 of those did not hit the target. It is tragic that Peterson was killed; it is fortunate that no bystanders were struck.
Questions also must be answered about the response required for a low-level drug deal, and whether Peterson’s race played a role in escalating the actions of police. One of the foundations of justice is that the punishment fit the crime, but the result in this case seemingly goes beyond the boundaries of reason.
Peterson’s death has generated warranted scrutiny. But that scrutiny often has bordered on inappropriate.
On Sunday, a march calling for the arrest of deputies involved in the shooting began outside an apartment building where one of the deputies reportedly resides.
Whether the target is a public figure or a private one, homes should be off-limits to protesters. Such action is likely to turn public opinion against the protesters, regardless of the righteousness of their cause.
The protest then moved toward downtown Vancouver, followed by “Back the Blue” counterprotesters. Some members of both groups reportedly carried guns in a show of force that increases the likelihood of additional tragedy.
The motivations of counterprotesters are suspect. There is little justification for counteracting a gathering, short of desiring conflict and confrontation.
As slogans go, “Back the Blue” is misleading and couterproductive. While it is important for a society to support law enforcement, it is equally important to hold officers accountable if their actions are beyond the scope of the law.
Justice must be blind, but we cannot look the other way if officers violate their duty. We also must recognize that America for too long has turned a blind eye to police brutality of minorities.
Protests across the nation this year have brought attention to that brutality, lending some hope that the arc of the moral universe does, indeed, bend toward justice.
In that regard, it is essential to remember that justice means equal access to the system and equal treatment under the law. It does not necessarily mean the outcome one desires, regardless of the tragedy that preceded it.