Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong is backing the use of "deadly force" in the wake of a police shooting that took the life of 61-year-old Horace Whiting earlier this week. Whiting was shot as he wielded a shotgun in the middle of Georgia Avenue in front of frightened on-lookers.
"He had been firing a shotgun throughout the neighborhood and after making the scene, he pointed to officers and they fired on him. And he lost," says Armstrong.
In the urban jungles of America it's a perplexing fatal scenario played out all too often. Police answer a shots fired call. They arrive to find an armed suspect. He or she opts not obey strident commands to put down the weapon. Suspect is shot by police. Who was at fault? The Memphis Police fatal shooting of Whiting, not surprisingly has elicited cries of "unnecessary deadly force and police brutality."
After the shooting, Whiting's friends and family speculated other alleged extenuating circumstances may have pushed Whiting over the edge of reason. In defending his officer's use of "deadly force", MPD Director Toney Armstrong, pointed out, when faced with making a split second decision, police don't have the benefit of being supplied with on-site psyche evaluations of an armed suspect.
"There's no way that officers can know his history. His mental state. His state of mind. And they have to make these decisions and that just shows you how tough being a police officer is," says Armstrong. "When someone points a gun, especially a shotgun at an officer, you take the...you put an officer in the position, as to where there's deadly force. It certainly…his or her life is threatened at that point and deadly force is justified."
Yet, at various times over the years, MPD's use of the deadly force option has come under scrutiny and generated criticism from the city's African Americans.
"We're concerned about the use of excessive force in the detainment of citizens," said former Memphis NAACP Executive Director Johnnie Turner in 2003.
Then MPD Director James Bolden, vigorously defended the policy even in the wake of four "deadly force" police shootings within a one month span. One of the victims was alleged mentally impaired suspect Denvie Buckley. That shooting led to a protracted lawsuit for the city. Yet, Armstrong agrees the department has to do a better job of communicating why and under what circumstances the use of "deadly force" is sometimes the only option in volatile situations.
"There has to be an education as to what deadly force is to our citizens. There has to be a level of expectation. A reasonable level of expectation as to what you're asking our officers to do," says Armstrong.
The officers involved in the shooting have been routinely relieved of duty with pay.