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Commentary: Kerrick drew a gun, neither black officer did. Is it wrong to ask why?

Charlotte’s about to erupt in racial violence if the jury fails to convict Randall “Wes” Kerrick in the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell.

And the blood will be on my hands.

That’s what some readers have written in to say in the wake of the column I wrote last week.

Kerrick, as we all know by now, is white. The other two officers at the scene during Ferrell’s shooting were black.

I asked why the white officer was the only one to pull out a deadly weapon. I said I believe he was more afraid than the two black officers, spooked by thoughts of the “big scary black man.”

Critics of the column said it was the height of irresponsibility for me to suggest that race played a role. They noted that the three officers weren’t all in the same situation because Ferrell was running at Kerrick, not at the two black officers.

They noted that Kerrick, in his videotaped statement to investigators after the shooting, said that he pulled out his gun because Officer Thornell Little, the first officer to confront Ferrell, had chosen his Taser.

They said it’s unfortunate that Ferrell made the bad choice of charging Kerrick. But in their minds, the dashcam video of Ferrell running is enough by itself to exonerate Kerrick.

To them, the only question that remains is, will black folks behave themselves when the jury acquits Kerrick.

For those readers, I’m a black journalist stirring up trouble when I should be calming it down.

I am sorry they see it that way. I certainly have no desire to see mayhem in the streets of Charlotte. But I fear that, like so much about race relations in this country today, nothing I can say will help them understand where I was coming from when I wrote that column.

Still, I’ll try to explain.

I know this “scary black man” thing is a real thing. I’ve never been charged with any crime beyond speeding, yet as a college student walking around Charleston, S.C., I grew so tired of white people glancing over at me and clicking their door locks that I once lost my mind for a second and yelled “I don’t want you, lady!” at one startled door-locker.

Add to that countless furtive, frightened glances and tightly clutched purses, and I know this thing affects white people’s behavior and reactions. It affects black people’s behavior too, to an extent.

So isn’t it logical for me to wonder if it might have affected Kerrick, a smallish white officer facing a black former college football player?

Given the fact that Ferrell was running in Kerrick’s direction or charging him – take your pick – Kerrick had every right to defend himself.

My question focused on why he chose a gun when neither of the other officers chose one. Kerrick’s statement says he pulled out the gun when he saw that Little had the Taser, not because he saw Ferrell running at him.

It has come out in court this week that Kerrick had been corrected by a superior officer after both he and another officer pulled out Tasers during a 2012 traffic stop. If one goes Taser, the superior told them, the other goes lethal.

Does that provide a non-racial answer to my question? It does, indeed.

And yet, CMPD Capt. Mike Campagna says Kerrick strayed outside the department’s use-of-force policy when he did that during the Ferrell encounter. Campagna, the department’s training expert, testified that Kerrick should have stayed non-lethal, as Adam Neal, the third officer on scene, did.

So was I irresponsible to ask the question I asked last week? No, I was not. It’s my job to ask hard questions, even those that make people uncomfortable.

An officer clearly has a level of discretion, based on how he perceives the threat, to react accordingly. Given what we’ve seen nationally of late, it’s hardly irresponsible to probe the reasons a white and black officer might perceive a threat differently.

I pray there is no violence in response to the jury’s verdict, whatever it might be. Still, the question I raised cuts to the heart of this whole national issue of police shootings of unarmed black men.

It’s the question black parents all over this country worry themselves sick about: Will my son or daughter get the same treatment, the same level of restraint, from a white officer as he or she would from a black officer?

Can any fair-minded white person see these bystander videos that have surfaced around the country and say they wouldn’t be asking that question if they were black? Eric Frazier

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