Are accountability and transparency the solution? Or is policing as we know it an outdated approach to public safety?
On Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers arrived at the 200 Block of Orange St SE in response to an Instagram live stream of multiple individuals in a vehicle brandishing firearms.
One of the individuals in the vehicle was 18-year-old Deon Kay, a Black male who ran away from the car when the officers arrived on scene. When Officer Alexander Alvarez saw that Mr. Kay had a gun in his hand, Alvarez immediately shot Mr. Kay in the chest as Kay threw his firearm away from himself into a grass field. Deon Kay was soon transported to the hospital, where he later died as a result of the shooting.
In June earlier this year, the D.C. Council passed an emergency police-reform bill that requires the MPD to release the body-worn camera footage of officers involved in fatal shootings within five days of the event. The bill also requires MPD to make public the names of the officers specifically involved. Within this bill, the victims’ families can choose whether or not the videos should be made public.
Due to this new policy, two videos of the incident have been released. The first version, which lasts a little more than four minutes, begins with a narration, giving details as to where and why the police were responding to the scene. Then, Officer Alvarez’s body-worn camera footage shows the shooting and follows Alvarez as he looks for the firearm thrown by Kay immediately after. The video concludes with a slow-motion playback of the shooting, which more clearly shows Mr. Kay brandishing a firearm before he is shot. The second video released by MPD is unedited and about 11 minutes long. It is the full body-worn camera footage of Officer Alexander Alvarez.
While the emergency police-reform bill promotes accountability and transparency among law enforcement agencies, it by no means solves policing issues in America. The video shows Deon Kay brandishing a firearm before Officer Alvarez fatally shots him. Still, critics ask why Kay had to die instead of attempting to de-escalate the situation.
Amid the strong and ever-growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the death of Deon Kay drew public outrage. A BLM organizer, April Goggans responded to the event saying, “This is the systematic way that MPD operates and polices black bodies. They see him; they jump out, they barely stop the car and run after him.”
The American Civil Liberties Union went public to criticize the officer’s quickness to shooting Kay instead of making any attempt to de-escalate the situation before fatally shooting him. The executive director of the ACLU’s District of Columbia branch, Monica Hopkins, said,
“The D.C. police department’s approach to gun recovery has been dangerous and ineffective for years. The tragic shooting and death of 18-year-old Deon Kay is the logical conclusion of a policy that not only meets violence with violence but actually escalates and incites it — especially in our Black communities.”
At-large Councilmember David Grosso went to Twitter to say, “The police killing of #DeonKay is a tragedy, and my heart is with his family and loved ones. The community and public deserve answers and accountability on MPD’s actions in this incident. His death is a failure of our outdated approach to community safety.”
It is time for the MPD to consider a new approach to keeping communities safe instead of making the people of the communities they police feel unsafe. While the emergency police-reform bill is an attempt, it is a mere band-aid that cannot truly heal a broken and outdated system.