|By Sera Davidow, Wildflower Alliance Director|
On January 9th, 2022, Orlando Taylor III was shot and killed by police in Springfield, Massachusetts. When we first wrote about what happened, video had yet to be released of the incident. Not too long after – amidst calls for transparency – the video was made available. But just 49 seconds of said video became the focus.
In that 49 seconds, we see Taylor stab one officer who approaches him from the side. Then we see both officers on the scene continuing to demand he drop his weapon as he moves away from and then directly toward them again. Shots are fired. Taylor drops to the ground. The incident is over.
Declarations justifying the shooting came fast. From Springfield Mayor, Domenic Sarno, who declared that the officers had used a “tremendous amount of restraint.” From Springfield Police Commissioner, Cheryl Clapprood (now infamously known for declaring that the Springfield police department doesn’t “suffer from systemic racism”), who referred to what happened as a “a dangerous, rapidly evolving situation.” And from Hampden District Attorney, Anthony D. Gulluni, who said that all that transpired was “reasonable and unavoidable in the interest of [the officer’s] own safety, that of his partner and that of the public.”.
The media also chimed in. For example, Masslive reporter, Patrick Johnson wrote:
“Video of the Jan. 9 fatal confrontation released on Friday shows officers stopping Taylor, Taylor stabbing officer Arjel A. Falcon in the face and then running off. It shows him stopping and walking, then running at Falcon with his arm raised. And the video shows Falcon, his hands bloody, firing the two shots that killed Taylor.”
What else could they have done? Case closed… Except, let’s rewind just a little bit; Two minutes and thirty-five seconds to be precise. Now we see Taylor pacing back and forth on a street with no one else around him. We see a police vehicle rush up and pull over right in front of him, essentially cutting off his path. We immediately hear officers begin to yell at him to “drop it” over and over. Taylor appears to get caught between “fight” and “flight” in a panic response. His first move is to run, but when an officer attempts to intercept him from the side with presumable intent to lay hands on him, he lashes out and stabs him. He runs some more, and then turns back and moves toward the officer again. Shots fired. He’s down.
The difference between these two versions is profound, even though the end result remains the same. To be clear, there appeared to be little to no “restraint” from the officers who immediately and aggressively charged in. The situation didn’t shift from pacing to “rapidly evolving” until they entered the picture in the manner that they did. No one’s “safety” was immediately at risk until they arrived. To suggest the officers successfully “stopped” Taylor before he stabbed Falcon and ran off is a critical misrepresentation.
This happens all the time. All. The. time. People who hold power approach aggressively. Their behavior gets lauded; Sometimes even labeled as heroic, and almost always at least “justifiable.” Meanwhile, the other party responds to the aggression in kind, and they get labeled as violent. Criminal. An “unavoidable” expense. This phenomenon is commonplace with police, but also in jails, psychiatric facilities, schools, and basically anywhere else where someone’s value can be seen as just low enough to make their objections not worthy of consideration when lined up against the status quo. This isn’t just about Orlando Taylor. It’s about every individual locked up involuntarily in a psychiatric facility who’s goaded by the staff until they can justify violently restraining them. It’s about every person confined within the carceral system who is taunted by guards until they can’t take it anymore. There are so many versions of this story, all following the same essential plot line.
Orlando Taylor III did not need to die. Death should not be a readily accepted penalty for lashing out when violently approached. Had someone attempted to talk to (rather than yell commands at) Taylor from a distance, approaching slowly and calmly, the outcome would almost certainly have been different. If there was no avoiding police involvement, perhaps they could have shown up without guns drawn, and parked on the other side of the street. Maybe they could have had tasers on hand. The context matters here. 49 seconds of video leaves key parts of the story out.
We also have no idea what happened before those two minutes and thirty-five seconds. What happened to Taylor in the days, the weeks, and the years before that brought him to this point. And, instead of considering that in any sort of in depth way, we have people flipping once again through their mental rolodex, searching for the next person to blame. As it turns out, the Behavioral Health Network (BHN) is next in line for not “doing something” in the days before when Taylor’s family called them for help. It’s true they failed to offer services when perhaps some support could have been given, and those services might have also rendered a different result. But, that’s not quite the full picture either. Because when the public cries out for the clinical world to “do something,” there’s generally not a lot of thought or understanding of what they might even have at their disposal. Nor does that public typically comprehend the rightful limitations placed upon them when someone does not voluntarily want help, and that serve to protect us all from discriminatory infringements on our liberty. Perhaps most importantly, there’s not actually a lot of evidence to suggest that they have anything to offer that’s really all that effective in the long-term. In fact, there’s a growing body of research that says that force and many conventional treatments within the psychiatric realm can actually make things worse over time for a significant number of people. The data is even more dismal for black and brown people who find themselves in the mental health system’s sights. Using Taylor’s story as a tool to justify more violence by way of forced psychiatric treatment should not be seen as any sort of goal or win at all.
Every last bit of what happened to Orlando Taylor should be seen as an urgent call for not only alternative crisis responses that do not involve the police, but also for alternative supports for people who are in distress before things reach a crisis point. Dialing it back even further, what happened to Taylor – and so many others across this nation every day – should be seen as an urgent call to look at all the ills that have taken up residence in our communities for far too long. The gaps. The holes. The violence and oppression embedded in what it takes to survive. We need to keep taking steps further back until the whole picture can be seen, and the more we refuse to do so the more the bodies will keep piling high.
Orlando Taylor III did not need to die. Don’t let anyone – no matter how powerful they may be – lull you into believing otherwise.