Over the last several years, the mainstream media has pounced on every instance of black criminals being shot by white police officers as examples of a “genocide” of young African-Americans in the United States. One story that the mainstream media has largely ignored is taking place in a West Virginia city less than an hour from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A Marine veteran says he was fired from the Weirton, West Virginia Police Department because he did not shoot an armed black man who was looking for “suicide by cop.” Two other officers arrived and killed the man, whose gun was not loaded.
Stephen Mader, 25, answered a call on May 6 from a distraught woman who said her boyfriend was trying to commit suicide. He tried to de-escalate the situation using his Marine Corps and police academy training, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Weirton is a city of about 20,000 in the West Virginia panhandle, 36 miles west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mader said, describing a silver handgun that Ronald Williams of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania held in his right hand, pointed at the ground. Williams, 23 and known as “RJ,” told the officer to “just shoot me.”
“And I told him, ‘I’m not going to shoot you brother',” Mader told the Post-Gazette. “I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and de-escalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop.”
At that point, two other officers arrived. Williams walked towards them, waving the gun, and they shot him. Police later established that the gun had not been loaded. Mader and the two other officers are white; Williams was black.
When Mader tried to return to work on May 17, he was told to report to Police Chief Rob Alexander.
“We’re putting you on administrative leave and we’re going to do an investigation to see if you are going to be an officer here. You put two other officers in danger,” Mader recalled the chief saying. On June 7, he was given a termination notice that said he “failed to eliminate a threat” by not shooting Williams.
Did Officer Mader endanger his fellow officers by not engaging the suspect or did the other two officers play right into the hands of RJ Williams by shooting him? It is unclear whether Mader made the right choice by not shooting the armed suspect or was simply gun-shy as a result of the Ferguson Effect. What is clear is that this is unlikely to be the final controversial case of a police shooting — or a police non-shooting.