After Washington, DC police officer Alexander Alvarez shot and killed 18-year-old Deon Kay in southeast Washington Thursday, it took less than 24 hours for the department to release Alvarez’s body-camera footage.
The footage appears to show Kay turning while holding a gun in his right hand as Alvarez runs toward him, yelling “Don’t move! Don’t move!”
The Washington Post reported that “D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said officers in the 7th District saw a live-streamed social media video of Kay and others inside a vehicle, holding weapons. Newsham said the officers recognized Kay and another man from previous interactions” before they arrived on scene.
As each new case of police using deadly force hits the news — often with minimal details and context — the civil unrest happening all over the country is further enflamed and reignited.
Thomas Owen Baker, a former Army Ranger and veteran police officer who now studies police use of force as a doctoral student, believes one of the most essential steps to police reform is equipping every law enforcement officer in the nation with body cameras and cultivating a culture of radical transparency in law enforcement institutions.
On Thursday, misinformation about the Deon Kay shooting began spreading online, but the speedy release of Alvarez’s body-camera footage helped provide more details. Baker, who hosts the Discipline and Punish podcast and often analyzes videos of police shootings, provided a detailed, professional analysis of what the video reveals and whether or not it appears — at this preliminary stage of the investigation — to be a legally justified use of deadly force. His analysis is in the video below:
Baker, who served for nearly nine years as a police officer in Phoenix, was responding to a domestic violence call in 2009 when he ordered a man holding a large, bloody knife to drop the weapon. The man yelled, “Let’s go, motherfucker,” raised the knife and ran toward Baker, who fired two shots into the man’s chest, killing him and eliminating the threat.
After an internal investigation, officials determined the deadly force was justified and ruled it a “clean” shooting. In a recent essay for The Guardian, Baker wrote that after his superiors lauded and rewarded his performance, he began to feel uneasy about taking a human life.
In 2014, he left his career in law enforcement behind and turned his focus toward researching police culture and use of force. He is currently working toward a doctorate in criminology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and was selected by the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2018 as a Tillman Scholar.