Even if a police shooting is justified, it is nevertheless a tragic event.
Montay S. Penning could still be alive today, except that he was wielding a 9mm handgun and ignored Beloit police officers’ instructions to drop the gun before they shot and killed him.
Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary had little choice but to conclude the shooting was “lawful and reasonable,” and it’s telling that Penning’s father, a U.S. Army Ranger, told the Beloit Daily News that he doesn’t fault the officers.
The father, Steven Penning, said he can relate to the difficult decision the officers faced as they confronted his son.
Some critics of how police handled the incident insist officers could have deescalated the situation without using deadly force, but these critics forget deescalation is a two-way street. Montay Penning pushed for escalation.
“I believe they could have talked it through,” New Zion Baptist Church Rev. Michael Bell said. “People should be brought to justice and not killed in the street. I just think there could have been a better result.”
Whenever a police shooting occurs, we as a community should ask whether it could have ended with a “better result.” We also must respect the stressful circumstances officers encounter when dealing with an armed individual. While it’s possible officers could have made different decisions that might have spared Penning’s life, that doesn’t mean the decision they made in that moment was unlawful or unreasonable. Indeed, the evidence as O’Leary presented it suggests the contrary.
Montay Penning made several terrible choices, starting with his decision to possess a stolen gun. He also chose to be inside a stolen vehicle in Beloit on Dec. 10 when law enforcement responded to a shots fired incident. He made other bad choices: running away from police, not dropping the gun when ordered and then aiming the gun at officers.
One area that we believe police should scrutinize is their use of body cameras during this incident. Video from officers with operating cameras didn’t provide a clear view of the crucial moments, though the audio provided helpful evidence. Two of the responding officers were off-duty at the time and either had their cameras off or weren’t wearing any. The police will want to review their policies to ensure officers who are off-duty have body camera capabilities if called to a scene.
We encourage the police to remain open with the public about any lessons learned from this incident, and we encourage critics of how the police handled this tragedy to consider the perspective offered by the victim’s father.
Officers put their lives in danger to protect our communities. They must make life-and-death decisions, often in a split second. Second-guessing their decisions is easy, but the job they do is not.