Throughout history, and especially in the last 25 years, there have been multitudes of instances of police officers and average citizens shooting and killing Black people, often unarmed, at the drop of a hat.
In many cases, those shooters often avoid punishment. However, a ProPublica piece by Senior Editor Joe Sexton shows what happened the night in 2016 when a white Weirton, W.Va., cop refused to shoot a Black man and was punished and shamed for it in an unsettling look at systemic racism.
Stephen Mader, a young rookie officer with the Weirton Police Department was called to the scene of a domestic dispute when he encountered R.J. Williams. When Mader confronted Williams, he was hiding his hands.
Mader, an Marine vet who has served in Afghanistan, was faced with another difficult choice.
“Show me your hands,” Mader said.
“No, I don’t want to,” Williams said.
“Show me your f—ing hands,” Mader said.
Williams opened his hands and revealed a silver and black pistol. What happened next shocked everyone.
“Put the gun down,” Mader said.
“I can’t do that,” Williams said.
“I don’t want to shoot you, brother,” Mader said. “Put the gun down.”
“Just shoot me,” Williams said.
Mader refused to kill Williams, a Black man, instead he opted to try to diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, back up arrived and Williams raised his gun and was killed by one of the officers.
Williams’ gun was not loaded. Mader was fired from the department a month later and mocked as a “coward” for not killing the armed Williams on the spot.
“I was just trying to calm him down,” Mader told Sexton. “It was really just talking to him like he was a human being—talk to him like a guy who was in a wrong state of mind, like a guy who needed to be calmed down, who needed help.”
“I didn’t want to shoot him,” he added. “I don’t want to say this, because it’s really corny, but I was kind of sacrificing my well-being for him. I’m not going to shoot this kid for my well-being. I’m going to wait to see more from him.”
Go figure. Mader, along with the West Virginia ACLU, filed a federal lawsuit against the department and it was settled in February for $175,000.
“No police officer should ever lose their job—or have their name dragged through the mud—for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot, a fellow citizen,” Timothy O’Brien, Mader’s Attorney said to The Washington Post in February.
“His decision to attempt to de-escalate the situation should have been praised, not punished,” he added. “Simply put, no police officer should ever feel forced to take a life unnecessarily to save his career.”
Click here to read the story in its entirety at ProPublica.