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Atlanta Man's Killing Sparks Outrage Over Police Using Deadly Force

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have a perspective on the death of Rayshard Brooks. Video shows Atlanta police were arresting him for intoxication when he seized an officer's taser and fled. A pursuing officer shot him. An autopsy found bullets struck him in the back. Cedric Alexander has followed all of this. He is a former chief of police and then-public safety director for DeKalb County in metro Atlanta. He's also a former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Good morning, sir.

CEDRIC ALEXANDER: Good morning. How are you, Steve?

INSKEEP: Thank you very much. I'm doing OK. Thank you. Do you believe the officers could have handled this sequence of events differently?

ALEXANDER: I think that's going to be a question that we're always going to ask ourselves right from the beginning. And my thought is - and understanding the discretion that police officers have, I certainly think from the onset - being that, it appears from the video Mr. Brooks was being cooperative. They even asked him to pull his car out of the drive-in line over into a parking space, which he did. Once they identified him, they could have certainly have had the opportunity to either give him a ride home, let him call a Uber, parked the car - whatever the case may be.

Everything does not always have to end in an arrest. A lot is left up to the discretion of officers. And sometimes, particularly in this climate that we're in, and we're looking at reform around this country in terms of our engagement with public police officers, I think it would have been a great opportunity to do that. And we wouldn't be looking at the situation we're looking at now. So they certainly did have the discretion to do something else.

INSKEEP: Once they determined that they believed him to be intoxicated, were they obliged to try to arrest him at that point?

ALEXANDER: Well, considering the fact that he was corroborative, considering the fact that he had taken his car off the road, considering the fact they even told him, pull over to the parking space while he was still behind the wheel - and once they conducted their investigation - here, again, Steve, you always have the discretion to make certain judgments. And I think this, from the video we've seen, certainly, I cannot account that the officers were the ones that were fair.

But I think these are opportunities that we have to take some time and doesn't always have to be around an arrest. It's not like he was out on the road driving recklessly, putting someone at risk. But it could have been very easily, let's drop you off at home. Let's call a Uber. Can you have someone to pick you up? And we know police officers do that. I did it as an officer. I know officers that worked for me who's done it. So it's using discretion. And here, again, in the climate that we're in right now, I think that would have been a more appropriate thing to do.

INSKEEP: Now, once they did decide to arrest him and he resisted, he grabbed the taser, he ran away, the video shows him seeming to point the taser in the direction of the pursuing officer. At that moment, does the officer have a case for using deadly force?

ALEXANDER: Well, that is the question that the DA is going to have to respond to. Certainly, officers have the right to protect themselves. But here, again, under those particular circumstances, how that all evolved - was the threat dangerous enough to use deadly force? And that is going to be the ultimate question. But here, again, Steve, I will go back to this. What the country is looking for at this present moment is a change in the way that police officers do business. People know that it's a dangerous business that officers are in.

But people also know, when they see images of such, what we all have seen over the last number of weeks - whether it's Arbery case in south Georgia or whether it's with the case there from what we saw in Atlanta the other night - they're images that continually stay in people mind. And then when you think about the George Floyd case, where police officers were involved - and you go back, you think about Eric Garner, Tamir Rice - all those names, unfortunately, we've become too familiar with who died in police interactions that should have had a very different outcome. That is when...

INSKEEP: When you look at this outcome, when you look at that moment of the officer taking out his gun and firing, as a former police chief - granting that the DA is going to have to judge on this - I mean, do you say, man, you had an option? You could have not fired in that situation.

ALEXANDER: Yes, he had an option. That's the point that I'm making. He certainly had an option. And the option is that he really did not have to use deadly force. They could have contained him. They could have set a perimeter. And here's the thing, Steve, they also had his vehicle, which means they had his driver's license. They knew where he was. And sometimes you have to ask yourself, is this effort worth it? So that becomes a very important question. And those are questions that are going to come out in a court of law as this continue to go forward.

INSKEEP: Mr. Alexander, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

ALEXANDER: Thank you for having me, Steve. Have a great day.

INSKEEP: You, too. Cedric Alexander is a former chief of police and public safety director in DeKalb County in Georgia and is also a former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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