The Ashli Babbitt Standard

By deeming the shooting justified despite the facts of the case and the law, the federal government sets a standard that appears to rest on the victim’s politics and race rather than an objective judgment about a legal question.

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Babbitt was no martyr. She was a believer in QAnon conspiracy theories and had no right to break into the Capitol on Jan. 6th. In doing so, she broke the law and, had she survived, would be charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.

Many of the Capitol Hill protesters engaged in fisticuffs with cops, but reports of them murdering a police officer turned out to be false, as did others about rioters arriving with equipment for taking hostages. Like those who got into fights with police, committed acts of destruction, invaded police stations and private businesses or otherwise engaged in public misconduct during the hundreds of Black Lives Matter riots the previous summer, the Capitol Hill rioters deserve punishment.

But merely being someplace where one had no right to be does not justify a fatal police shooting. As legal scholar Jonathan Turley has pointed out, quoting the Supreme Court, “Lethal force must be used only against someone who is ‘an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and…is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” He further states, “police officers should not shoot unarmed suspects or rioters without a clear threat to themselves or fellow officers. That even applies to armed suspects who fail to obey orders.”

While the situation facing Lt. Byrd was chaotic and frightening, video of the incident shows that Babbitt was merely breaking and entering. She was not presenting an imminent threat to anyone at the moment she was shot. Moreover, in his interview, Byrd admitted that, “I could not fully see her hands or what was in the backpack or what the intentions are.”

That gives the lie to Byrd’s claim that he was convinced Babbitt posed a lethal threat. Babbitt was the only person who died as a result of the violence on Jan. 6—two other demonstrators died of natural causes and a policeman (who was erroneously reported to have been fatally beaten during the riot) died of natural causes the next day. Though other Capitol police had actually been attacked by the mob, none fired their weapons even in self-defense.

We may understand Byrd’s fears and not know exactly what was in his mind at the moment he fired. But if police had applied to the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots the same standard that was applied to Byrd’s shooting of Babbitt, then hundreds—if not thousands—of rioters around the country, including those who broke into government buildings, could have been legally gunned down, even if they were unarmed. Does anyone think that such shootings would have been justified by those who now laud Byrd, or that the cops involved would not have been dismissed and put on trial?

The point here isn’t so much the hypocrisy of those applauding Babbitt’s death. It’s that, by deeming the shooting justified despite the facts of the case and the law, the federal government sets a standard that appears to rest on the victim’s politics and race rather than an objective judgment about a legal question. Treating rioters, even those who break the law, as undeserving of civil rights and legal protection is unsupportable no matter their cause. Such treatment is a greater threat to democracy and communal peace than even the actions of the Capitol rioters.

Source: The Ashli Babbitt Standard