The accounts of what happened minutes before 15-year-old Brownsville, Texas student, Jaime Gonzalez, was shot by police after brandishing a pellet gun “closely resembling” the real thing are murky, as “authorities declined to share what the boy said before being shot.” Those details will emerge. What might also emerge is what drove this young man, a drum major in the school band – who even the district superintendent said was not a problem kid – to bring a pellet gun to school, what drove this young man to allegedly assault another student, what drove this young man to allegedly engage with Texas police before two shots fired by cops brought his life to an end.
The question needs to be answered.
“‘The first question that people have to ask is whether this boy felt bullied or mistreated in the school in some way,’ Cornell said. ‘Initially people always express dismay. Invariably when you find out enough about the young man, it does become explicable.’”
Killing a 15-year-old brandishing a pellet gun seems to be a classic case of overkill – in this case literally. Texas apparently hasn’t caught on to what other cops, at other campuses across the nation, have begun to employ to avoid the use of lethal force in subduing individuals or crowds. Brownsville interim Police Chief Orlando Rodriquez said that police “fired down the hallway” because the “distance that made a stun gun or other methods impractical.” But TASERs can work up to 25 feet to disable a suspect, and they’re not killing machines. Compressed air weapons, similar to paintball launchers, work up to 60 yards and aren’t killing machines. One of the first law enforcement choices for subduing crowds or unruly individuals are pepper projectile launchers, which work up to 200 feet away, and aren’t killing machines.
On the 911 call, you hear a fairly calm, non-hysterical female, relating to the 911 dispatcher that a student has a gun, talking to people in the background in a calm manner, and conducting what sounds like a routine, rather than a distress, call to police. When the police arrive, the female caller is distracted from her 911 call and begins talking to people in the background. Although the situation sounds under control during the woman’s 911 call, when the police arrive the situation seems to escalate, with the cops screaming at the young man to drop the gun. She relates that there is shooting going on, the dispatcher tells her to leave the building, and the call disconnects.
What is most telling about that 911 call is the calm in the beginning, and the escalating hysteria overheard in the background when the police arrive. From the 911 call, it was a very short time from the moment the police entered the scene to the time the 911 caller reported shooting. Did anyone consider talking this young man down? Was a hostage negotiator an option? What about a shoulder shot, a leg shot? In gun-saturated Texas, was killing a 15-year-old really the only option?
Although Police Chief Rodriguez claimed that the young man was an “armed student roaming the halls of a school,” the 911 recording seems to indicate that the incident was largely contained at the front door of the building.
15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez died and many of us are heartsick at the options that seem to have been overlooked in favor of two bullets to this young man’s torso. In a state like Texas, packing heat is as natural as breathing. In Texas, there is no waiting period to purchase a handgun, no state registration required, no prohibition against concealed carry, no prohibition against carrying a firearm in your vehicle, no ban on machine guns, suppressors or short-barreled firearms, no ban on assault weapons, and no limit on how many rounds a magazine holds.
Other campus police forces have non-lethal weapons that could have subdued Jaime Gonzalez without killing him. But Texas – well, Texas has its guns.