Magdiel Sanchez was killed because he was deaf.
Sanchez wasn’t disobeying commands. One can’t disobey what one doesn’t know. One can’t know when one can’t hear. You can’t blame a deaf man for being deaf, but they killed him for it anyway.
The killer was Oklahoma City Sgt. Christopher Barnes. He won’t be charged.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said his investigation determined the Sept. 19 shooting death of 35-year-old Magdiel Sanchez outside his south Oklahoma City home was justified.
What’s curious isn’t so much that Prater decided that Barnes didn’t commit a crime, but that the shooting was “justified,” as if Sanchez being deaf meant deserved what he got.
Oklahoma City police officers who opened fire on a man in front of his home as he approached them holding a metal pipe didn’t hear witnesses yelling that he was deaf, a department official said Wednesday.
Magdiel Sanchez, 35, wasn’t obeying the officers’ commands before one shot him with a gun and the other with a Taser on Tuesday night, police Capt. Bo Mathews said at a news conference. He said witnesses were yelling “he can’t hear you” before the officers fired, but they didn’t hear them.
Barnes wasn’t there because of Sanchez, who did nothing wrong to attract police attention other than to exist. The irony, of course, is that people were yelling to Barnes that he was deaf and couldn’t hear, and hence comply, with his commands. But Barnes “didn’t hear them.” So Sanchez didn’t hear Barnes. Barnes didn’t hear anything. Sanchez ended up dead.
Had Sanchez not been deaf, not been on the wrong side of the good guy curve, not been completely unrelated to any cause for Barnes to be at the scene, his killing still would have been suspect. He had a stick. To Sanchez, it was his walking stick, which everyone around the neighborhood knew he carried with him. It’s no crime to carry a stick.
Barnes had a Taser. He had a sidearm. He had lethal force at his disposal. He may not have known Sanchez’s stick was just for walking. He may have had reasonable cause for concern that this man, about whom he knew nothing, including whether he was a bad dude about whom he should be worried, was a potential threat. To a person wholly ignorant of his surroundings, inclined to paranoia, everything is a potential threat.
But he had the gun. He could pull it out, point it and, if needed, pull the trigger in a fraction of a second. He could wait until the person was within striking distance, notwithstanding the fallacious fallback of the Tueller 21-foot “rule.” He could have waited until the “weapon” was raised to strike. Or, of course, he could have backed away rather than killed, since he had no reason to kill otherwise. Barnes had no clue who this person was or why he should be concerned with him at all.
But Sanchez was deaf. So the situation was not one of questioning the premature use of deadly force against a good guy with a stick who wasn’t following commands, and therefore deserved to die for his insolence.
Had Prater chalked this up to a tragic mistake, an outlier to the extent one can walk away from a common disability as if no cop ever heard of a deaf person before, it would be troubling. What’s a deaf person to do? Does that make it open season on deaf people who have the misfortune of crossing paths with unduly nervous cops? Cops can exercise restraint. Deaf people can’t hear, even if a cop commands them to. That’s how deafness works. Does he die for that “failure” to hear?
Sanchez’s family has said he was completely deaf, developmentally disabled and that he used the pipe as a walking stick. The autopsy found no drugs or alcohol in Sanchez’s system.
Had this been characterized as a tragic mistake, it would evoke one set of responses. But to call it justified is to proclaim that it’s open season on deaf people. Given Barnes’ failure to hear the witnesses yelling at him that Sanchez was deaf, which undermines any objective claim that he wasn’t aware, this is a Pyrrhic excuse.