Sometimes, I see or hear or read something that makes me wonder: “What kind of crazy, mixed up world do we live in?”
It happened again last week, when I read several news reports about Stephen Mader, a former police officer who says he was fired because he chose not to shoot and kill a 23-year-old man whom he assessed as being suicidal, during a domestic disturbance call.
“He didn’t appear angry or aggressive. He seemed depressed. As a Marine vet that served in Afghanistan and as an active member of the National Guard, all my training told me he was not a threat to others or me. Because of that, I attempted to de-escalate the situation. I was just doing my job,” Mader said during an interview with CNN.
Apparently, Mader responded to a call around 2 a.m. on May 6, 2016, about a man threatening to hurt himself with a knife.
When he arrived on the scene, he encountered a 23-year-old man, who had his hands behind his back. After ordering the man, several times, to show his hands, he complied, revealing a silver handgun in his right hand.
Mader pulled his service revolver and ordered the man to drop his weapon. The man replied “I can’t do that. Just shoot me.”
Convinced that the man was trying to commit “suicide by cop,” Mader responded “I’m not going to shoot you brother” and continued to plead with the young father to drop the gun. As two other officers arrived, the man reportedly began waving his weapon and was shot dead by one of the other officers.
An investigation into the shooting – which deemed the use of deadly force justifiable — found that the man’s gun was unloaded.
It seems that Mader made the right decision in trying to de-escalate the situation. But his assessment cost him his job as a police officer – he was fired about a month after the deadly shooting because he “failed to eliminate a threat.”
In this day and age, when police officers have kept their jobs despite brutality, corruption, harassment, and questionable circumstances in the use of deadly force, an officer who seemingly shows compassion and takes the time to see others as human beings gets fired?
From my vantage point, there is something wrong with this picture.
Mader (who happens to be a Marine who identified IED’s in the warzone of Afghanistan so that they could be disarmed without harming our troops or the communities they were in) is the kind of cop that I want on the streets – one who fully assesses a problem and uses his/her skill to resolve the problem; one who is compassionate and values life; one who knows how to use critical thinking to gauge whether he/she is in imminent danger; one who operates with calm and poise.
Although the deadly shooting of the 23-year-old African-American man and firing of Mader, a then 24-year-year-old white police officer (and young father himself) occurred last year, the story made national headlines last week because Mader is now suing the Weirton, West Virginia police department that fired him for wrongful termination.
For me, Mader’s story reveals some problems in our criminal justice system. Is there something wrong with a culture that punishes an officer who shows restraint and rewards behavior that results in death and destruction?
Shouldn’t we expect those who put on a uniform and a badge and commit to protecting and serving our communities to respect the sanctity of life?
Mader’s words reveal that he saw more than a suicidal man begging him to shoot. He saw his brother, standing before him, hurting and in distress. He then decided to try to peacefully resolve the situation.
I think Mader handled things the right way. I respect his judgement. I applaud his ability to see others as members of his human family. I commend him for standing up for what he believes is right.
“In the simple moral maxim, the Marine Corps teaches — do the right thing, for the right reason — no exception exists that says: unless there’s criticism or risk.”
― Josh Rushing (Mission Al-Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World)