On January 18, 2016, Mesa Police Department officer Philip Brailsford murdered Texas man Daniel Shaver. Why are we only hearing so much about this case now, nearly two years later? It was last year that portions of Brailsford’s bodycam were released, even though it omitted the actual murder. On December 7, just a couple of days ago, Brailsford was acquitted of all charges. Now the trial is over, and Brailsford is free, the rest of the footage has been released to the public, and we must ask the question: Why is Philip Brailsford a free man?
Shaun King—also known as Talcum X to his critics—may be pro-Black Lives Matter, which means he’s quick to jump to race-baiting, but he’s correct in his Tweet about Daniel Shaver’s murder. It is a grave injustice. And he’s not the only one.
Law enforcement officers in the United States are trigger-happy. In 2016 alone, 1093 people were killed by the police, down fifty three from the previous year. This number is still too high. Movements—the most notorious being Black Lives Matter—have been formed from such statistics. But police brutality is not a race issue. While black US citizens disproportionately represent the statistics, they are by no means the only ones being killed by trigger-happy police officers. Groups like Black Lives Matter are ignoring the bigger issue simply so they can rage against a perceived oppressor.
Some of these police officers have seemingly good reasons to kill. Sometimes, their [and other] lives can be in grave danger, and there have been numerous cases of police being shot by vicious criminals and deranged lunatics. Thirty-four year old David Carver was an inmate at a Kentucky prison when he took a nurse hostage with a weapon he’d fashioned himself. He was fatally shot by police after negotiations failed and he attempted to attack officers. Abdul Artan drove his car into a group of pedestrians at Ohio State University before getting out of his car and attacking people with a butcher knife. He was eventually killed by a campus police officer. These people clearly have dangerous motives, and we are lucky police were able to stop them, though it’s unfortunate there had to be loss of life.
Daniel Shaver was not like these two men. For one, he was not a criminal by any means. He was a pest control worker who used air rifles in his line of work. Secondly, he betrays the notion the police brutality is a race issue. Daniel Shaver was a white man. He was intoxicated, spending time with friends, showing them the air rifle he used for his work, when someone saw the air rifle and assumed it was being used for sinister purposes. That person called 911, and Philip Brailsford was one of the police officers who arrived at the scene. He—along with five other officers—ordered Shaver and a female friend out of their hotel room, where Shaver appeared confused and unarmed. Considering reports to police were of an air rifle, how could Shaver have fit an air rifle into his pants? In any case, Brailsford sounded furious and demanding, asking of Shaver many ridiculous demands that a drunk person like Shaver would struggle to follow. Shaver appeared clearly distressed, crying and asking why this was happening to him. When Shaver was on the ground, clearly unable to hurt five trained police officers, he reached for his shorts, at which point Brailsford shot at him five times, killing him. Brailsford’s weapon, by the way, was etched with the words “You’re fucked”.
While Brailsford was not immediately discharged following Daniel Shaver’s murder, he was fired later that month, for policy violations and unsatisfactory performance on the job. While some may claim Brailsford is suffering as a result of his actions, this is not a proper explanation. He killed an unarmed, intoxicated man, who seemed to pose no harm. One must question the other police officers with Brailsford at the time of the murder. It was seemingly easier for these officers to allow the murder of a man than to use a security card to open a door. What was with the overly ridiculous demands Brailsford was asking of Daniel Shaver? Was it not clear motive to kill that Brailsford told Shaver he would kill Shaver if a single wrong movement was made? How can this be ignored?
Two serious problems must be addressed in regards to police officers and the seemingly large number of police-related deaths. How well are these officers trained to deal with conflict? In the bodycam footage, Philip Brailsford appears immediately hostile towards Daniel Shaver, willing to shoot Shaver when he so much as lifts his leg up a second too late. What about the justice system? How can a supposed justice system allow a man to go free over murdering another human being? Even if Daniel Shaver posed a threat (which he didn’t), there must still be some sort of punishment for the willful murder of another human being. Based on bodycam footage, Philip Brailsford was willing and ready to kill that day.
Do not make a mistake.
—Philip Brailsford to Daniel Shaver
As evidenced by Daniel Shaver, police brutality is not solely a race issue. Firstly, this ignores the context of the crime. Some of the black men murdered by police include Micah Johnson, who shot and killed five police officers in an attempt to “kill white people”, and Markell Bivins, who stabbed his ex-girlfriend multiple times. Many of the other nonwhite victims of police brutality like Joyce Quaweay were fully innocent and killed by trigger-happy police officers, who in many cases did not receive prison sentences. In other cases, their crimes were “ruled justified” and some even police the streets to this day.
We should be thankful Philip Brailsford no longer works for the Mesa Police Department, but it sets a concerning precedent he is now a free man, despite body cam footage showing this really should not be the case. Perhaps certain pieces of evidence brought forth to the jury were compelling enough not to punish Brailsford.
Regardless of the criminal intentions of the dead, we should be concerned about the high number of deaths by living police officers. While The Guardian’s list be flawed in its counting—it included domestic violence, hit-and-runs and even a police officer who left her daughter in a car—it shows an overwhelming number of innocent people, and even seemingly guilty people who didn’t need to die.
We must be looking to improve police training so trigger-happy and fame-hungry cops do not wield the power to choose between life and death for civilians. If someone who’s committed a minor traffic offense is at risk of losing their life, and shows no weapons, they should not be afraid of their lives. In the case of Daniel Shaver, he just wanted to have a night out with friends, and to show those friends what he does for his work. It is horrifying Daniel Shaver lost his life, but if we do not start questioning the training of police officers, there may well be many more Daniel Shavers. There will be more Philip Brailsfords, and that is the most concerning thing of all.