The police officer keyed his microphone and spoke the two most important words of his career: “Shots fired.” He had just fatally shot a man, in the kind of split-second life-or-death decision that every law enforcement officer trains for, but none of them ever wants to experience. He repeated the communication several times — “Shots fired!” — and then added, “Send all units.”
When fellow officers arrived, Officer Bryan Pray was emotionally distraught by what had happened. “I can’t even talk right now, man. I didn’t want that to happen to him, man.” The policeman in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, had just killed Kevan Ruffin, after a nightmarish encounter in the early-morning hours of July 2.
Officer Pray had been dispatched by a 911 call shortly before 6 a.m. reporting a disturbance involving a knife-wielding man. Arriving at the scene of the incident, the officer found a woman crying hysterically. She said she had been attacked by a black man with two knives or swords, who looked at her with “pure hatred” on his face and called her “the devil in the flesh.” She had escaped without serious injury, and her attacker had gone eastbound up an alley toward South 15th Street.
Officer Pray got back in his patrol car and went in pursuit. He spotted Ruffin, pulled over on the opposite side of the street, parked the vehicle, stepped out and addressed the suspect: “How you doing, Ruffin? Are you fine this morning?” Ruffin was known to Sheboygan police; he suffered from mental illness, and his mother had called police the day before to advise them that his problem was getting worse. Just how much worse, Officer Pray quickly learned. As soon as he stepped out of his patrol car, Ruffin crossed the street and advanced toward him. “Step back,” the cop warned, pointing his taser. “You’re gonna get tased, bro.”
Ruffin continued advancing slowly, a knife in each hand, then suddenly charged full-speed. Officer Pray fired the taser, but it didn’t halt Ruffin’s charge, and next the cop pulled his pistol, retreating as he yelled, “Step back! You will get shot!” He fired three shots, but Ruffin seemed unfazed. Officer Pray was now sprinting away from his enraged assailant as he fired four more shots. After the seventh shot, Ruffin fell face-down in the street, and Officer Pray then sent the radio call: “Shots fired! Shots fired! Four-fifty-eight, headquarters, shots fired!”
What had happened in the middle of South 15th Street was tragic and, in hindsight, perhaps avoidable. Maybe if Kevan Ruffin’s family had been able to get him institutionalized before he began hearing voices, or maybe if Officer Pray had stayed in his patrol vehicle instead of stepping out into the street, that fatal encounter could have been avoided. Under the circumstances, however, Ruffin’s attack left Officer Pray with no alternative and, earlier this month, the local prosecutor concluded his investigation and announced that no charges would be filed. “Officer Pray’s actions were reasonable and unfortunately his use of deadly force was necessary,” Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski wrote.
About 100 miles south of Sheboygan, the town of Kenosha erupted in three nights of destructive riots after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, with powerful Democrats like Joe Biden declaring that Blake’s death demonstrates the power of “systemic racism” in America. Yet it is unlikely that Biden or any other leading Democrat could tell you how many people are shot by police in an average year, nor could they meaningfully discuss the racial breakdown of those cases.
The next time Biden emerges from his basement isolation, perhaps someone should ask him if he’s ever heard of Kevan Ruffin. Of course, that would be unfair because, unless you live in Sheboygan, you probably never heard about Ruffin’s death, which is not one of the cases the media have turned into a national cause célèbre. Indeed, I never would have heard of this shooting in Sheboygan had I not gotten in the habit of watching a YouTube channel called “Police Activity.” Police departments across the country are now using body cameras that record officers’ interactions with the public. The Police Activity channel features those videos made public, as is often the case in what are called “officer-involved shootings.”
What you learn from watching these videos is how quickly and unexpectedly a law enforcement officer’s job can go from routine to life-or-death. Consider an incident that happened last year in Buena Park, California. Officer Bobby Colon and Officer Jennifer Tran were on patrol when Officer Colon, riding in the passenger seat of the patrol car, noticed a Range Rover with an expired tag. He instructed Officer Tran to hit the blue lights and make a traffic stop. Questioned by Officer Colon, the driver of the Range Rover seemed cooperative, and claimed that the vehicle belonged to his cousin. Officer Colon told the drive to “hang on,” and returned to the patrol car, where he learned by radio dispatch that the Range Rover had been reported stolen.
This was now what cops call a “felony stop,” and standard procedure would have authorized the two officers to draw their pistols and command the driver to exit the stolen vehicle. However, because the driver, 18-year-old David Patrick Sullivan, “continued to be calm and cooperative.” the officers decided against that, not wishing to unnecessarily “escalate” the situation. They exited the patrol car and approached the Range Rover, where Officer Colon opened the door and asked Sullivan to “step out of the car.” Suddenly, Sullivan started the Range Rover, shifted into reverse, rammed the police patrol car and went careening backwards, running over a sign and hitting another vehicle. Sullivan exited the Range Rover, yelled obscenities at the cops, and charged toward Officer Colon, who opened fire with his pistol. Within a few seconds, after Officer Tran had also fired, Sullivan fell to the ground.
What happened? As it turned out, Sullivan had gone to his job that morning at a convenience store, stolen about $2,000 worth of cash and merchandise from his employer, then stolen the Range Rover from a customer. Evidently the teenager expected to get away with his crimes and became enraged at the cops who foiled his caper. After an investigation that lasted nearly 10 months, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer concluded that “Officers Colon and Tran were reasonably justified in believing that Sullivan posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to themselves, and nearby civilians,” and they were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Unless you live in Southern California (or watched bodycam video of the incident on Police Activity’s YouTube channel), you never heard about the shooting of David Sullivan. He was white, and therefore the national media didn’t care about him getting shot by cops. It is only when cops kill a black suspect that CNN and the rest of the media mob shift into 24/7 coverage mode, with hourly updates to incite racial tensions and provoke “mostly peaceful protests” that invariably turn into violent riots. This kind of sensational media coverage gives the public a distorted picture of crime and law-enforcement in America. In fact, as researcher Heather Mac Donald has pointed out, last year police shot more unarmed white suspects (25) than unarmed black suspects (14). The Left’s rhetoric about “white privilege” and “systemic racism” simply don’t match the facts.
Lots of people get shot by police without CNN ever mentioning their deaths. In June, a drunk man began threatening customers at a grocery store in Glendale, Arizona. When police showed up, they found the man in the parking lot, brandishing a knife. He advanced toward Officer Meghan Lyall, obscenely threatening to kill her and ignoring her repeated commands to drop the knife — until she shot him. Jon David Brouseau, 55, survived. He was white, so there was no 24/7 CNN coverage, no protests, no riots.
Nor did CNN pay any attention to the July 4 shooting of David Garcia in Phoenix. Cops showed up at a house where a man had been threatened with a knife. As they investigated the scene, police noticed Garcia, 28, asleep in a car in the driveway of the home. For about 10 minutes, officers questioned Garcia and asked him to step out of the car. And then one of officers saw that Garcia had a pistol. A few seconds later, Garcia was shot dead. No riots. No national media coverage. Apparently, it is only black lives that matter to the media this election year.
None of this means anything one way or another about the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, or the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, or any of the other similar cases that have become the subject of national controversy. The mobs carrying protest signs, hurling bricks at cops, smashing windows, and looting stores are being manipulated by distorted media coverage. If these rioting mobs would just stay home and watch Police Activity videos on YouTube, they’d get a more realistic picture of what cops face every day.
Officer Bryan Pray, who shot Kevan Ruffin, is himself black, and had tried hard to build good relationships with the black community in Sheboygan. A former football star, Officer Pray had “worked with the Black Lives Matter movement and spoke out about police reform recently.” But when Ruffin suddenly charged at him, Officer Pray had to make a split-second decision. After the shooting, he broke down in tears. A police lieutenant asked if he was all right. “Physically, I am fine,” he answered, “but emotionally … I just killed somebody, man.”
It’s a tough job, being a cop. Maybe the media, the protest mobs, and the politicians ought to express some gratitude toward the men who do that job.