Charges Dismissed For Wash. Cops In Controversial Shooting Death Of Mentally Ill Hispanic Man

Last February, 35-year-old Antonio Zambrano-Montes was gunned down by three Pasco, Washington, police officers for throwing rocks at them and attempting to flee. Now, all three of those cops are walking away free from charges. The Franklin County prosecutor’s office said as much on Wednesday, prompting the question once again: What is acceptable police response when facing violence?

Zambrano-Montes’ death was not taken lightly in his farm community, where more than half the population of the 68,000 living there in southern Washington are Hispanic, themselves. His death also occurred amidst incredible pressure on law enforcement from communities across the nation to de-escalate their abuse and brutality against citizens, especially those who are less protected by their white skin.

Footage caught from a nearby witness’s smartphone clearly shows Zambrano-Montes running across a busy intersection after five shots can be heard being fired at him by officers for throwing rocks. Reaching the opposite side of the intersection, Zambrano-Montes runs a short way, then turns around, only to have several shots fired at him, ultimately dying in the exchange. Later, it was determined he had methamphetamine in his system, but that hardly plays as a factor because it was not known at the time of the incident – though that tidbit of information is constantly used to hedge against the officers’ murdering him in broad daylight.

At the time, officers Adrian Alaniz, Ryan Flanagan and Adam Wright simply had some guy throwing rocks at them – a far from lethal situation that one certainly expects could be handled with less than lethal force, especially in a crowded intersection amongst the general population in the middle of the day. Yet county attorney Shawn Sant states the officers were entirely within their rights and roles as cops for Zambrano-Montes to “make their day” in shooting and killing him. The dismissal of their charges is, to Sant, vindication that his position, and the actions of the officers, is and was just. The New York Times writes:

“The officers had every reason to believe Mr. Zambrano posed a threat, Mr. Sant said.”

Sant also said, regarding the officers:

“In this case, there is no evidence that the officers did not act in good faith, and certainly there is no evidence of malice.”

Malice? Maybe, maybe not, but if not that, then what? Cowardice? Bravado? Megalomania? Playing God? Surely one should not become a police officer if one is so deftly afraid of something as little as one man throwing stones that it drives one to shoot to kill. Taking a scratch here and there is part of a police officer’s job to ensure the safety (and here’s the kicker, whenever possible) even of criminals. That’s what potentially makes them heroes worthy of respect, but they’re doing it all wrong, and have been since their inception. De-escalation and possibly arrest should be the desired approach to dealing with the public and maintaining both its safety and its civility.

But were the officers’ actions even justifiable, really? How can that be so when there was no lethal threat present? To meet a minor disturbance with lethal violence is the very heart of what more and more Americans are currently standing against in the U.S. How can this be justified? How?

Accepting for the moment that our current laws are set up in a manner to make the above acceptable and “justifiable,” what changes must we make to bring our civilization back to its root notion of being first and foremost, “civil”?

Because that is not okay. Because that is not justifiable, laws and racist system be damned. We know this, in our hearts, in our conscience. This is not right and must be changed. Maybe these officers walk free, but let us change ourselves and organize our communities, organizations and systems to, in time, actually become humane, just and civil.

Upon the announcement of the three officers walking free from the charges, residents began shouting at Sant. One woman questioned:

“How can this be justice? Drugs, mental health, 17 shots – it’s not the way to take someone and consider that justice.”

Lawyer for the victim’s family, Jose Baez, stated:

“His mother broke down. This was their child. They put their faith in the U.S. justice system.”

That anyone would ever say such a thing about the U.S. justice system only shows the degree to which people are devoted to the notion of justice, democracy, freedom – all the symbols America allegedly stands for, even as the country lives day by day by the failed notions of greed, hate, bigotry, colonialism and lazy ignorance. That any of us still burn with life enough to fight through it all and love each other, the land, the air and water, is truly a testament to the innate goodness in people and the human will. That’s a victory in itself, but the cultural war for our minds and conscience is still very much being waged, and is far from over.

In the meantime, we keep organizing, marching, sitting down and standing up for change, for justice, for Zambrano-Montes and the countless others who have suffered death by a police officer’s hand. #BlackLivesMatter. If we all work hard and struggle together enough, maybe someday #AllLivesMatter will actually mean something without being racist, misguided and offensive.

Baez, along with a lawyer for Zambrano-Montes’ former wife, are both planning lawsuits against the city, the police department and the officers responsible for the shooting.

Featured image via The New York Times video screen capture