by Rachel Blevins, The Free Thought Project:
Footage from witnesses is raising questions about why a police officer shot and killed an unarmed man for walking toward him on the side of a busy street.
Lehigh County, PA – A disturbing video was posted on Facebook that shows a police officer open fire and shoot multiple rounds at a man who appears to be slowly walking towards him, on the side of the street, near an amusement park.
The man has yet to be identified, and the details released by the South Whitehall Township Police Department have been scarce. Police Chief Glen Dorney confirmed that the man was killed in the shooting, and told WNEP News that the incident started around 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“The officers did respond to a report of a man in the area. They investigated, encountered, and the incident unfolded from there,” Chief Dorney said.
The video begins as a witness watches a school bus and several cars pass by on a busy street near a local amusement park. A police cruiser is parked on the side of the street, and there appears to be a man in a black t-shirt and blue jeans standing next to the front passenger door.
The man then continues to walk down the street, away from the car. The officer exits the car and the man turns around. As soon as the man starts walking back towards the car, the officer can be heard yelling “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”
It should be noted that when the man is walking toward the officer, he is walking at a normal rate and his arms are swinging back and forth. He does not appear to reach for anything in his pocket, and it does not appear that he was armed or trying to harm the officer.
The officer gives just seconds from the time he yells for the man to “get on the ground,” until the time he opens fire and shoots five rounds in the man’s direction. The video shows the man attempt to put his hands up before his body collapses on the ground as he is hit by bullets.
It is not clear why the officer chose to open fire in such a crowded area where one of his bullets could have hit a nearby car carrying an innocent family, and it is also not clear why the officer believed the man was such a legitimate threat that he deserved to die.
Witnesses told The Morning Call that “the man who was shot did not appear to be armed,” and the report confirmed that no weapons were recovered at the scene.
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin told reporters that police were initially contacted with reports that the man was “interfering with traffic” in the area. He claimed that the man tried to “rip the window out of a vehicle.”
Witnesses said they saw the man hanging onto the window of a moving car, and then hanging onto the window of a police car before he was shot and killed.
The man’s background and his mental history are unclear. In fact, Martin claimed that police still do not know the man’s identity and the report from the coroner’s office listed him as “John Doe.”
While it is not clear whether the man was mentally ill, his actions do raise questions about his mental health. As The Free Thought Project has reported, while police officers receive extensive training on how to accurately fire their weapons, they often receive very little training on how to de-escalate situations with mentally ill individuals.
There are a number of other ways in which the officer could have subdued the man, and the fact that he chose to immediately resort to his firearm, serves as a reminder that police training in the United States needs a serious shift in focus.
Caution: the following video contains graphic content