On the same day that an Ohio grand jury decided not to indict police officers for killing 22-year-old John Crawford III at a Wal-Mart near Dayton, authorities released surveillance footage from the Wal-Mart that seems to directly contradict the contention that Crawford posed a threat to anyone.
Though it doesn’t have sound, the video presents a shocking display of how quickly the officers appeared to take the young Black man’s life without giving him any opportunity to explain why he was holding a toy gun in the middle of a store that sells toy guns.
The grand jury’s decision Wednesday will be disturbing to many African-Americans who have been alleging all summer that too many American police forces don’t value the lives of African-Americans as highly as other groups. Some may also see it as a sign that the St. Louis grand jury considering whether to file charges against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed teen Michael Brown will ultimately decide to let the officers go.
It is difficult to reconcile the actions of the police inside the Beavercreek Wal-Mart with the state of Ohio’s status as a traditional open-carry state, meaning citizens are allowed to openly carry long guns and handguns that they legally possess without any special license. So the fact that Crawford was standing in the Wal-Mart with what police believed to be a real gun in his hands should not have prompted the cops to open fire. What the entire incident points to is the incredible dangers inherent in an open-carry law — dangers that are especially potent for African-American males — and how such a law could spur police to exhibit overly aggressive behavior.
The Aug. 5 incident was precipitated by a phone call from a white man, Ronald Ritchie, who originally told police that Crawford had a gun and was “pointing it at people” and “like loading [the gun] right now.”
On the call, 24-year-old Ritchie, who was originally described as an “ex-Marine,” said a Black man was walking around the store with the weapon. He also told the 911 dispatcher that he saw Crawford loading bullets into the supposed weapon.
It’s easy to see how police, hearing such alarming descriptions from a witness, would arrive on the scene ready to open fire at a dangerous gunman.
But in an interview with The Guardian, Ritchie retracted his story, saying, “at no point did he shoulder the rifle and point it at somebody.”
In the Guardian interview, Ritchie defended his 911 call: “Even still, it’s a gun in Wal-Mart, in a public place, inducing panic.”
Apparently Ritchie isn’t aware of Ohio’s open-carry law.
“Somebody’s going to have to explain to me how anybody goes into Wal-Mart and ends up dead,” John Crawford Jr., the dead man’s father, told NBC News. “It appears that we have an epidemic in the United States of America where young Black men are being slain by white police officers, and nothing is being done about it. And we need to stop that now.”
LeeCee Johnson, the 22-year-old’s girlfriend and the mother of his two children, said she heard the entire incident because she was on the phone with him as it happened.
“We was just talking,” she told the Dayton Daily News. “He said he was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said, ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him. … And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.”
Crawford is seen in the video calmly standing at the end of the aisle, holding the toy gun in his right hand with it primarily pointed toward the floor while he apparently talked on the phone. There are no other people in the aisle, so there’s no way anyone could see his actions as any kind of threat.
After about 50 seconds on the video, Crawford suddenly moved forward and dropped the gun. As officers advanced on him, Crawford seemed to move toward them, then he turned away and fell to his knees, apparently because they were shooting him. Then he fell on his back with his legs splayed out.
As with the video of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, it is extremely disturbing to view the final moment of this man’s life, snuffed out so quickly by police when he appeared to be doing nothing at all to warrant it.
Though the grand jury said “No” to charging the officers, it would be tragic if videos like this one don’t push police executives across the nation to reassess how officers are trained.
WARNING: Graphic content. Wal-Mart surveillance video of John Crawford III before he was shot by Beavercreek police Aug. 5. This video has been edited for time.