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VICTOR JOECKS: No outcry over police shooting a white man in his own backyard

If Darin Dyer had been Black, his death would be national news. But he’s white, so no one is outraged that a police officer shot him while he stood in his own backyard.

Two Saturdays ago, police received a 911 call reporting a man trying to break into a North Las Vegas house with a “four-foot long metal” pole. The caller thought the man was drunk or on drugs and said the man asked him if he wanted to die.

Police responded. It was after 10 p.m. and dark. Body camera footage shows that officer Paul Sanderson used a flashlight to see Dyer through the metal pickets of the fence. He immediately noticed that Dyer had an AR-15-style weapon slung around his neck.

“What’s up with the gun?” Sanderson asked. “Keep that where I can see it.”

Dyer didn’t. He walked away from the officer with his hands off the weapon, which the sling held up. Dyer turned to face the officer keeping his hands away from the weapon. He moved toward Sanderson, swore at him and turned away once again.

Almost immediately, he reversed himself. He rotated toward Sanderson — this time with both hands on the rifle. As he completed his turn, he held the rifle in the low-ready position. The body camera appears to show Dyer raising his rifle. Sanderson shot him. Even in slow motion, the speed of the action and poor lighting make it hard to see the details. Other people watching the video may come to different conclusion on Dyer’s movements. Dyer died from his wounds.

Imagine you’re that officer. You have two-tenths of a second to decipher what’s going on and take the proper response. You don’t want to shoot anyone. But that may be the only way to prevent Dyer from trying to kill you. Not great.

That’s the nuanced version. But if you wanted to stoke controversy, the headlines write themselves. “Nosy neighbor calls police on man for trying to break into his own home.” “Police kill man in his own backyard.” “Police shooting shows need for de-escalation training.”

But national outrage these days seems to hinge on a single detail — race. If Dyer were Black, this shooting probably would be taken as yet more evidence of systemic racism. Activists might insist the neighbor called the police only because he was scared of Black people. Other observers might take the shooting as prima facie evidence that policing is racially biased. There might be riots.

The police report, however, listed Dyer’s race as white. The officer is Caucasian. This tragic occurrence doesn’t fit the “systemically racist” narrative, so it will soon be forgotten.

That’s the problem. This shooting discredits the premise of systemic racism. If race determined outcomes in confrontations such as this, Dyer would still be alive. He’s not, because his actions mattered a lot more than his skin color. That holds true for people of all races. Free advice. Don’t try to point a gun at a police officer.

When stories such as this receive almost no attention from the national media, the public is left with a skewed perspective of what’s actually happening.

Victor Joecks’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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