Has the Austin Police Department become too trigger happy? Deconstructing Cisco’s shooting.
Writer’s note: The goal of this piece is not to increase violence and hate. It’s me trying to wrap my head around this tragedy. Hopefully it can increase discussion around how our civil servants protect and serve us.
In the evenings, I like to work in the garden in my backyard. It clears my head. Usually when I come back inside the house, I’m calm and super chill. Last night, in light of the shooting of Austinite Mike Paxton’s dog Cisco by an Austin police officer, however, my world felt a little less peaceful.
You see, walking around the corner from the back of the house to the carport, I imagined myself as Mike walking out of his backyard. He’s probably just as carefree as most folks on a Saturday evening. Turning the corner, he’s suddenly being shouted at by a police officer holding him at gunpoint. Confused, he puts his hands up, and then watches helplessly as his dog, curious about the sudden change in his owner’s voice, runs out of the backyard, and gets gunned down.
The more I watch and listen to the dashboard recording of the moments leading up to Cisco’s shooting, the more sad I get. I can’t help but put myself in that situation, replaying the tape and imagining myself, my friends, or my neighbors in Mike’s shoes. Each time, I’m left feeling helpless and confused.
Then I start thinking about Officer Griffin. What were his moments like?
As he gets out of his car, maybe he thinks about Officer Padron, a colleague who was recently shot and buried. When he takes his gun out of its holster before stepping on the property, does he think about his family or kids? Does he just want to be safe? Does he want to help the couple in the alleged domestic dispute?
Like Magnum PI, he has his gun ready. Suddenly, someone walks out of the backyard into the driveway.
“Show me your hands! Get your dog!”
“Get back! Get back!”
“What did you shoot my dog for?”
That transpires in 4 seconds. What would you do?
You can hear the heartbreak in Mike’s voice when he repeats: “What did you shoot my dog for?”
Officer Griffin yells: “Why didn’t you get your dog?”
Mike, in shock, responds: “I didn’t know you were here. I was just in my yard. Oh my god. You came here and killed my dog. I need to see a vet.”
You can hear the confusion when he asks: “Why did you pull your gun on me? I live here?”
Officer Griffin continues to question Mike. He’s trying get a grip on the situation the only way he knows how, by applying more authority. There doesn’t seem to be compassion in his voice. No sympathy. He’s not talking to a person who has just lost a friend, it’s a potential criminal who needs to be wrangled.
Ordering him around, he asks why Mike didn’t tell him he had a dog. Asks why his dog charged him.
Watching and listening to the tape at home is kind of like watching Jeopardy. Without the pressure of the moment, we can see the answers the participants can’t. In this case, we can see that in less than 5 seconds, Officer Griffin told Mike to freeze and then shot his dog. His dog ran out of the yard because he was curious and that’s what dogs do–especially if they sense their owner is in danger.
I feel like the suspects and victims are the ones always forced to answer questions. So I’d like to ask Officer Griffin some questions:
- Why did you take your gun out of the holster when you stepped out of your car?
- Why didn’t you calmly walk up to the house and ask if there was a problem?
- Why did you yell at Mike to freeze without even letting him know you were there?
- Are you so jumpy and trigger happy that you would have been startled by a child running around the corner?
And now a couple questions for Chief Acevedo:
- We’ve had several shootings over the last year, why have cities larger than us had fewer?
- How do you have your officers approach situations that aren’t violent?
- What sort of training do your officers get on when to use their weapons?
- What do your officers do to cultivate peace and understanding?
- How are your officers trained to handle pets?
- Do you have programs to help stressed out cops?
- If workplace culture comes from the top down, what do you do to ensure that you set the example for peace instead of instilling aggression?
Listen, we all know the world can be unsafe at times. And mistakes do happen. I would not want to be Mike or Officer Griffin right now. It is truly disheartening when any creature, be they cop, man, woman, dog, or child loses their life.
But violence and fear beget violence and fear.
When police officers lose another officer, they get more stressed out. Likewise, when an officer shoots a civilian (or a handful of civilians get shot in a year), the city’s population begins to question the department’s ability to uphold peace. They also become more suspicious, skeptical and aggressive, further threatening the safety of police officers.
We, as a city, have the power to change. We have to decide how we as citizens and those who serve us should act. Do we promote fear and violence? Or do we move towards peace and understanding?
One of my favorite Buddhist writers is Thich Nhat Hahn. His book “Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses to Life’s Burning Questions” is full of answers about modern life from the Buddhist perspective. In response to a question about being physically attacked, the answer pretty much says the best defense is a good offense:
We can eat and work and sleep in a way that we preserve our health and resilience. We can cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and compassion. Every time the Buddha was in danger of being attacked physically, he used his mindfulness, intelligence, and compassion to subdue the person who was about to attack him, and he didn’t have to use martial arts
How can we and our leaders inspire brotherhood, compassion, and peace?
How do we recognize the delicate thread of humanity that connects us and still maintain a lawful society?
These are questions that we need to ask ourselves. They are also questions our Mayor, Police Chief, City Manager, City Council, and community leaders need to ask each other.
If you would like to contact them, you may email them here:
- Police Chief Art Acevedo: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mayor Lee Leffingwell: email@example.com
- City Manager Marc Ott: firstname.lastname@example.org
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