We join Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer in asking local residents not to resort to violence while protesting the police shooting death of unarmed 19-year-old Dylan Noble the afternoon of June 25, and the law-enforcement shooting deaths of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota last week.
Dyer asked for calm and for the community to unite hours before a protest in downtown Fresno on Wednesday night and at the end of a news conference in which he played chilling police body-cam videos from the Noble shooting.
“We are a spark away from a forest fire in our community,” Dyer said at the opening of a news conference that he called “the most important” of his long tenure as Fresno’s top cop.
Dyer expressed his condolences to Noble’s family for their son’s death and said that the community could trust him to do the right thing in overseeing the department’s internal investigation into the shooting.
More specifically and most importantly, he said that the investigation would be conducted without regard for public opinion, the opinions of Fresno police officers or the opinion of the union that represents officers in the department.
We will hold Dyer to that standard. We will do so because it’s right the thing to do. And because the body-cam videos raise serious questions about whether officers were justified in firing the last two of the four shots that ended his life.
Dyer said he had questions about the last two shots, as well, but that he had yet to form conclusions about whether those shots were fired in accordance with department policy and the law, or whether the officers – with Noble bleeding, face up on the ground, and facing away from officers – should have used non-lethal force at that point.
In our view, it is significant that 12 seconds elapsed between the firing of the third shot and the final shot, which came from a shotgun. Dyer stressed during the news conference that officers are trained to assess the situation after every shot, and that the officers involved would be asked about the threat that they perceived before each of the shots.
The chief also said that the officers’ entire interaction with Noble – which began as a traffic stop and accelerated to a “high-risk” stop when he failed to immediately pull over – would be reviewed to determine if officers acted appropriately and within department policy.
The body-cam videos showed that Noble repeatedly failed to comply with officers’ commands to put both of his hands outside of the truck’s window after he pulled into a gas station. Upon exiting the truck, he acted erratically – whirling around, holding one of his hands behind his back and, at one point, staggering. Before the first shots were fired, he walked directly toward the officers, again failing to follow their orders and ignoring a warning that he would be shot if he didn’t show both of his hands and get down.
Noble’s death is a tragedy. It could have been avoided entirely if he had complied with the officers’ initial commands. But we are not alone in seeking justification and explanation for the final two shots, especially the last shotgun blast.
Dyer and his Internal Affairs team, as well as the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, must investigate Noble’s killing thoroughly and without bias. They also must publicly explain their findings and justify their conclusions when their investigations are completed.
Justice demands it. The community’s trust in the Fresno Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office demands it.
But until we know more, activists have a responsibility to protest in a manner that doesn’t further stoke emotions and endanger both themselves and local law enforcement officers.
As the ambush killing of five Dallas police officers by Micah Johnson showed the world last week, we are living in often irrational and dangerous times. Calm and reason must prevail as we, as a nation and a community, commit to fulfilling the goals and ideals of our Founding Fathers.