Could the death of 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez have been prevented?
That’s the question that residents of Brownsville, Texas, are asking themselves. And the child’s anguished parents are demanding to know why police didn’t try a Taser or beanbag gun before resorting to deadly force. Police officers are insisting that they had no choice.
It Happened Last Wednesday, January 4
Jaime was fatally shot in a hallway of Cummings Middle School during first period Wednesday, following frantic calls to police from school officials who, along with responding officers, believed the boy had a handgun. It was, in fact, a pellet gun, but according to a recording of the emergency call, Jaime refused to drop the weapon.
From Education Week:
Before police arrived, school administrators had urged Jaime to give up the gun. When officers got to the school, the boy was waiting for them, (Brownsville Interim Police Chief Orlando) Rodriguez said.
Moments before he was killed, Jaime began to run down a hallway, but again faced officers. Police fired down the hallway—a distance that made a stun gun or other methods impractical, Rodriguez said.
If the situation had involved hostages or a gunman barricaded in a room, police might have tried negotiations. But instead, Rodriguez stressed, this was an armed student roaming the halls of a school.
The two officers who fired have been placed on administrative leave—standard procedure in police shootings. Rodriguez expected them back at work soon.
Pellet Guns Required To Have Orange Band – But This One Didn’t
Under federal law, pellet or BB guns must be sold with an orange band around the tip of the barrel so they can be distinguished from real weapons. But law-enforcement experts say users often remove the bands, and the coloring can sometimes be hard to see.
Gonzalez’s gun had no markings, according to Rodriguez.
There was also broad agreement among law-enforcement experts that if a suspect raises a weapon and refuses to put it down, officers are justified in taking his life.
In a recording released Thursday of the 911 call from the school, the assistant principal says a student in the hall has a gun, then reports that he is drawing the weapon and finally that he is running down the hall.
Police can be heard yelling: “Put the gun down! Put it on the floor!” In the background, someone else yells, “He’s saying that he is willing to die.”
Still, the death of 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez has disturbed many residents of Brownsville, near the U.S.-Mexico border, where parents already burdened by economic woes and street gangs are now faced with explaining the tragedy to their children.
Jaime Was A Good Kid, Didn’t Get In Trouble
What makes this case especially heartbreaking is that Jaime was a drum major who danced in his church’s annual religious festival, stayed out of gangs, never got into major trouble, and had two parents who closely watched him.
We cannot know what was going through Jaime’s head as he brandished a pellet gun, knowing that it closely resembled a handgun. But we do know that this was a senseless death, that it didn’t have to happen, and that all police officers should seek alternate ways of helping troubled teenagers rather than resorting to killing them.
What do you think? Did Jaime have to die?
Photo Credit: crackers43