Short Take: Deaf Can’t Be Helped

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.

23 thoughts on “Short Take: Deaf Can’t Be Helped

  1. Onlymom

    From my side this was cold blooded murder and their bosses by excusing it are now accessories after the fact at a min. Seeing as they are responsible for the murdering little psycho’s training case could be made they are accessories before the fact as well since this is hardly the first deaf individual shot and killed by police with nothing done to prevent it

    1. SHG Post author

      What I find most interesting about you is that the same mindless bloodthirstiness you hold toward cops is what they hold toward you. You are just the flip side of the worst of them, and your comments are a valuable reminder of how dangerous mindless anger is no matter where it happens.

      1. Onlymom

        My comment is hardly mindless bloodthirsty as you call it. I hate to bust your bubble but cops are human when they commit a crime they deserve punishment and not via some stupid so-called civil rights violation charge. Call it what it is. If any of us saw him and demand he drop the pipe at the same time his friends and neighbors were telling us to stop screaming because he’s deaf dummy and we then pulled a weapon and killed him. Well pardon my French but our ASS would be in jail and the charge would be murder!

        I have said it before I know very well that like any other profession 90per go to work every day and don’t frame anyone. Rape anyone or kill anyone. It’s that 10 per I have a problem with and their superiors and friends who protect them

        1. SHG Post author

          Let’s not forget that 90% of your comments involve killing cops. Just because I trash them doesn’t mean you didn’t write them.

          1. Onlymom

            True but I am sure every one of those comments are connected to a cop who just like this one was caught in the act of a capital crime that would bring anyone NOT a cop decades in prison at a minimum. But for a criminal cop brings little or no punishment. I have the govt would do their job and deal with these criminals instead of Pat them on the head the ordinary citizens might stop thinking it’s about time to apply the ultimate punishment outside of the court system that has shown they will do little but whitewash their acts

  2. Irrelevant

    Interesting: my reasonableness-instinct on the story completely switches when I read that the “stick” is a metal pipe. Not totally comfortable with that, since I could easily see a deaf man with a properly marked cane getting shot under similar circumstances, but it’s definitely the central detail to framing it as a justified killing.

    1. SHG Post author

      It is interesting how this alters the fantasy image in your mind and obscures all relevant facts. You’re not alone; most people lack the ability to focus on materiality and ignore the fact that regardless of the material of his walking stick, it was never used, or threatened to be used, as a weapon of any kind at any time.

    2. Ahaz

      This is the problem with they way our police are trained to view deadly threats. Our police have killed people with knives, sticks, walking canes, rocks, etc., and it’s been deemed a reasonable action. In the UK and Scotland, police regularly and routinely apprehend subjects with those very same potentially deadly weapons. The reason why deadly force isn’t used upon those subjects is that their officers are EXPECTED to be able apprehend those subjects without it. Here, we give a gun and authority for an officer to kill based upon a perception and it’s codified in law. The SCOTUS has allowed the individuals that exercise deadly force to determine what a “reasonable” standard is, and that standard is corrupt and is killing citizens.

    3. Nerull

      I wonder if conservatives are aware that the view that everyone should have the right to be armed at all times is not compatible with the view that anyone who is potentially armed should be shot on sight by police.

      1. Dave Matthews

        In this instance, you have it completely backwards. This was not some object mistaken for a gun; it was a metal pipe. And the cop knew it was a metal pipe. If no non-cops had guns, and the cops knew that no non-cops had guns, this man would still be dead.

      2. Irrelevant

        You’ll get better understanding if, rather than applying those two political opinions to the actually-existing society and declaring they contradict, you look for the model of society where they don’t contradict and conclude that’s where people with conservative instincts wants to live. If you want everyone you know to be armed, but armed strangers to be shot if they act suspicious, the circle-squaring premise is that you want to live in a society that optimizes degree of social connection and minimizes contact with strangers.

      1. Jake

        This response is interesting to me. For almost ten years I’ve been reading about scenarios where an otherwise innocuous contact between the police and a civilian resulted in the death of an innocent, unarmed American citizen.

        Anecdotally, and based on my own deep experience with how the police responded to similarly innocuous contact and sometimes much more threatening scenarios (to the officer) prior to Graham v. Connor these scenarios were less often lethal.

        You yourself created the term ‘reasonably scared cop rule’ to highlight how many times it has been used as the defense, clearing said scaredy-cops of any wrongdoing, personal liability, or criminal consequences. This freedom from consequences also has the knock-on effect of further entrenching a me vs. them attitude in law enforcement, spawning poor attitudes towards civilians, faulty risk calculation, and bad training themes such as the ubiquitous ‘make it home for dinner’.

        It would seem Graham v. Connor is the root cause of so much death and suffering, yet you are never willing to discuss the means to reverse or mitigate its impact.

        Why is that?

        1. SHG Post author

          So if I say yes, you can discuss it. If I say no, you can discuss it anyway. Cool trick! I almost fell for it.

          Unfortunately, you are not likely to get the discussion you want, “the means to reverse or mitigate its impact.” Want to reverse it? Become a lawyer, take a case to the Supreme and persuade them it’s wrong. Want to mitigate its impact? Run for Congress, write a law, get enough of your pals to go along with it, boom.

          Graham v. Connor has been discussed here many times, including when I coined the “Reasonably Scared Cop Rule.” That was the time to speak you mind.

  3. Aaron

    I’m not well versed in firearm safety nor in marksmanship. I do have a question though. Why do officers always shoot to kill instead of shoot to wound? 9mm to the thigh will generally slow down anything smaller than a city bus.

Comments are closed.