A San Antonio police officer freaked out last weekend, unjustifiably blazing away at a fleeing 17-year-old in a McDonald’s parking lot. However, the incident hasn’t inspired protests, grave statements from national politicians, or a cable news and social media uproar — apparently because the 17-year old wasn’t black.
On Sunday night, first-year San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officer James Brennand was responding to an unrelated disturbance call at a San Antonio McDonald’s when he spotted a parked car that he said evaded him the night before, after he attempted to pull it over because the plates didn’t match the vehicle. (SAPD’s analysis implies Brennand’s conclusion about the car was correct.)
Video captured by Brennand’s badge camera shows him calling for backup, but then proceeding alone to the car. Without first addressing the driver, Brennand abruptly opens the driver door, revealing 17-year-old Erik Cantu eating a burger. When he orders Cantu to get out of the car, Cantu backs the car up.
While the open car door apparently bumped Brennand, video shows Brennand firing five shots after Cantu’s car is already well clear of him and no threat to his safety. After yelling “shots fired!” three times into his radio, he unloads another five rounds as Cantu drives off.
Miraculously, a 17-year-old female in the car wasn’t injured, but Cantu was hit multiple times and was hospitalized. Police found no guns on him or in the vehicle.
To the SAPD’s credit, Brennand was fired just three days later. Cantu was initially charged with evading police and aggravated assault, but the Bexar County district attorney rejected the charges for what he says is a lack of evidence — and maybe anticipation of an inevitable multi-millon-dollar civil suit. Brennand has not been yet been charged.
“It started going bad from the very start of this encounter,” SAPD Chief William McManus told the San Antonio Report. “You don’t know that for certain it’s the same vehicle, you don’t know for certain it’s the same driver.”
McManus also said Brennand used poor technique by placing himself within the arc of an open door of a running vehicle, and that, once he was clear of the door, he “was no longer in danger” and “he was not in a position where he should have used deadly force.”
The second round of shots was also against SAPD policy. “The driver was going in the opposite direction, away from the officer,” said McManus. “There’s no way I could look at that, or anyone could look at it, and try to justify what happened.”
Though Brennand is apparently white and Cantu Hispanic, there’s been no major media presumption that their differing skin shades factored into Brennand’s reckless conduct. Of course, barring evidence of ethnic animus, that’s exactly how it should be.
Had Cantu been black, however, it’s safe to say racism would have been assumed, and the San Antonio McDonald’s might now be a smoldering husk…like the Wendy’s in Atlanta where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by police after he grabbed an officer’s taser and fired it as he resisted arrest in 2020.
Excessive police force should be universally condemned regardless of the races and ethnicities of the people involved in an incident. Yet, there are many examples of undue police violence against white people that go largely ignored.
Meanwhile, when race is a forced centerpiece of discussion when black people are involved, citizens are diverted from a reasoned evaluation of what actually happened.
Worse, by nudging people into debates over the extent to which race is a factor, presumptions of racial animus inhibit more widespread consideration of practical police reforms — like Rand Paul’s proposed ban on no-knock warrants in the wake of Breonna Taylor‘s death — that could benefit civilians of all colors.
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