Problems with Michael Byrd's Claims Regarding Ashli Babbitt

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Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd admitted to NBC News last night that he shot Ashli Babbitt on January 6th. We analyzed the video footage of the Babbitt shooting months ago and reached the conclusion that it was an unjustified shooting ( Byrd's statements do not change that conclusion, but they do shine light on a systemic problem that allows officers to get away with murder whenever they feel threatened.

We agree that any reasonable person in Byrd's position would have feared for his safety, but we also think a police officer is supposed to be able to recognize fear for what it is and not allow it to govern their decision making. Byrd's full interview with Lester Holt is embedded below this article. At about 3:45 Holt asks, "the fact that you were not aware if she was armed or not, did that alter your decision making?" Byrd answered, "it did not." That is where we have a problem. Lt. Byrd shot an unarmed woman having no idea if she had a weapon or not. The same scenario plays out all over the county countless times each year often ending the same way. We believe that officers are not justified shooting someone just because they feel threatened and that person might have a weapon. We believe that they should be required to ascertain that subjects are in fact armed or at least acting in a way indicative of being armed. All too often we see cases where someone gets shot just for holding a cell phone (, not taking their hands out of their pockets (, or fleeing the scene ( In all those cases officers argued that they felt threatened and didn't know if the victim had a weapon. All too often the felt threatened and not sure if he/she had a weapon excuse holds up in court. We think that officers should not be able to shoot first and ask questions later whenever they feel threatened by someone that might have a weapon.

Byrd also seems to rely on false information conveyed via the Capitol Police radio that day to justify feeling more threatened. We find that problematic because often officers rely on false information to justify using excessive force. In such cases those in charge of oversight tend to disregard whether or not the information was correct and instead view things from the perspective of a reasonable officer who believed the false information at the time. Such cases often end tragically and the officers responsible for relaying the false information in the first place are never held accountable. Usually that is because they claim they thought they were relaying accurate information at the time and proving that they lied intentionally is almost impossible. We are not saying that officers made up claims that shots were fired earlier for the purpose of misleading fellow officers because they easily could have mistaken loud bangs for gunshots, but we do think more needs to be done to hold officers accountable for recklessly assuming loud bangs are gunshots.

At this point we want to draw attention to a common mistake we've seen the media use when analyzing the Babbitt shooting footage. We were watching a video from MSNBC featuring Joy Reid interviewing Rep. Madeleine Dean ( in which they seem to be analyzing everything from the point of view of the cameraman and not Babbitt. There was a point where they act as if Byrd having his gun out should have been obvious. Had Babbitt been standing next to the cameraman we would agree, but it appears that the cameraman was towards the far-left of the doorway and Babbitt was on the far-right. The glass doors were broken and furniture was piled up on the other side. Even if Babbitt could see past the people that were between her and the cameraman we don't think she could have seen the gun through the broken glass and furniture barricade. We think that Byrd should have fired a warning shot to make absolutely sure that Babbitt knew she was on the other end of a gun. We think that she would have probably stopped had she been aware of Byrd's intentions. Another alternative would have been for him to stand where anyone coming through any window could have seen him easily, but instead he hid off to the side lying in wait for anyone to come through knowing full well that given his proximity to the representatives he was charged with protecting that he could probably meet all the legal technicalities necessary to justify using lethal force.

We recognize that there is a big difference between being legally justified and morally justified. All a person must do to be legally justified is satisfy the minimal technical requirements necessary to avoid being prosecuted. Being legally justified does not require that someone have no choice other than using deadly force and being physically harmed or someone else being physically harmed if the shooter is a police officer. Officers are held to a different standard. We think that Byrd had other options and that he failed to exhaust those option, so even if he was legally justified he was not morally justified.

Finally, Byrd being black and Babbitt being white has nothing to do with our opinion. Often when we make these arguments the officer is white and the victim is black. We also do not consider Babbitt being a Trump supporter relevant nor do we consider the actions or intentions of other protesters relevant. For the sake of argument we will assume that Babbitt herself intended to harm lawmakers because her intentions towards them are also irrelevant due to her not being close enough to any lawmakers to harm them when she was shot. Nobody knows if she would have gotten close enough to harm lawmakers had she not been shot because Byrd never gave her a chance. Its not like Byrd was armed with a musket requiring him to reload for several seconds after firing. If a warning shot didn't work Byrd could have instantly fired a second shot into Babbitt's chest.

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