What have we come to when we believe drunken college students over police officers? That is exactly the case in Thornwood, N.Y. Several "eyewitnesses" claim the authorities overreacted when they shot at 20-year-old D.J. Henry's car in front of a local bar, which resulted in his death and the injury of his passenger. It has been reported that D.J. was supposed to be the designated driver and was only there to pick up some friends. I find that hard to believe considering his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.
Understandably, D.J.'s parents are outraged and devastated, calling for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. I can't imagine the pain they must be going through. This is a tough one because on one hand you have parents who just lost their son, and on the other you have a drunken kid who allegedly fled from the cops when he was approached and hit two of them with his car as he accelerated. It's not like D.J. was just minding his own business and the cops walked up to the car and shot him. He put himself at risk when he knowingly got behind the wheel while he was intoxicated.
Where does personal responsibility come into play? D.J.'s blood-alcohol level was .13. He was in the driver's seat and the cops were called to the bar due to an "unruly crowd" outside. Should they have let him drive home? Of course not; they're going to do their job and approach him. If the authorities hadn't gone up to the car and instead just let D.J. drive home, what would the consequences have been? Driving under the influence could have resulted in an accident. He could have killed someone, and he was putting his friend's life in danger. What would people have said then? I don't think they'd be too happy with that outcome, either.
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The cops were doing their job. It seems like when they do that, their investigations are "fatally flawed," as D.J.'s family put it – but when they don't do their job they're incompetent and negligent. Are we to blame police officers when they try to protect and serve?
These police officers were not aiming to kill. I'd bet my bottom dollar that they've been trained to disable a vehicle that doesn't stop when told, but it becomes more difficult when that 2,000-pound vehicle is speeding your way. D.J. is not as innocent as his family and the unruly eyewitnesses make him out to be. He was breaking the law, driving under the influence, didn't stop when the cops asked him to, then hit two cops with his car. The eyewitnesses can say whatever they want, but a blood-alcohol level doesn't lie.
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D.J.'s father has alluded that his son's blood-alcohol level was leaked to the media to sway the public. What's there to sway? A fact is a fact regardless if it's leaked or kept a secret. Don't you think keeping that information quiet is a strategy to sway the public as well? Rather than let the public see all of the facts and decide, his father would have preferred that minor detail to remain unheard. This ultimately would have swayed the public to take D.J.'s side. Never mind the fact that he could have killed someone on his drive home, or even the cops he ran over; let's keep D.J.'s wrongdoing a secret so people won't think he's responsible.
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The friend in the passenger seat told his mother that D.J. didn't understand what the cops were saying to him and thought they were directing him to move the vehicle. Of course he didn't understand what they were asking of him – he was drunk. But does that mean D.J. isn't responsible for his actions?
None of this justifies D.J.'s death; this was a tragic and preventable situation. But I don't think the officers intended for this to happen. Could this have been prevented? Of course. Both D.J. and the authorities are responsible for this tragedy. They reacted, and unfortunately D.J.'s life was cut short. But no one forced him to get into the driver's seat, no one forced him to accelerate and no one forced him to hit two cops with his car.
My dose of honesty: It's not fair to completely blame these officers who were trying to do their job. This was a devastating outcome, but D.J. put himself in that situation. Now, I can't ask his parents to understand that, but they can't put all of this onto the authorities. Their son has to be accountable for his own actions just as the cops are accountable for theirs.