David Linthicum, a 24-year-old white man, was arrested by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in February after violent encounters with police that left two officers with gunshot wounds — one of them was placed on life support. As officers from a special weapons and tactics unit closed in on Linthicum, who was holed up in a wooded area in Harford County, they believed he was armed with weapons from a police vehicle. Police said he had stolen that vehicle the night before to escape authorities.
At every turn in the pursuit of Linthicum, police found ways to use less-than-lethal force in their efforts to take him into custody. Police said they were aware that Linthicum was heavily armed and willing to use deadly force. But they demonstrated they were determined to bring him into custody unharmed.
Linthicum was seen as presenting a major public safety threat to surrounding communities and caused neighborhoods and schools to issue shelter in place orders. Despite the danger, officers approached Linthicum in the early hours of Feb. 10 to take him into custody. While Linthicum was swarmed by police, he suffered no visible injuries. Police dogs were not deployed to assist with his apprehension, and Linthicum was taken from the scene to the hospital for a checkup before being taken to jail.
This case, like others recently in the news, can be viewed through many lenses. But the one that brings it into the clearest focus for me is the racial-privilege lens.
It is indeed commendable that police spared Linthicum’s life where at almost any time throughout the multi-jurisdictional manhunt, it could have been justifiably taken without any tough questions to answer or protracted investigations to conduct. Still, I cannot help but have thoughts about how different the outcome would have been if Linthicum had been African American.
I know I’m not alone when I say that the African American community and beyond are left furrowing our brows and shaking our heads at the fact that Linthicum survived his arrest despite the lives he left hanging in the balance, both physically and emotionally.
We have rarely seen the same level of restraint in 21st century policing in cases of police pursuits of African Americans. Indeed, police have killed African Americans in this state and this country for far fewer transgressions than those alleged in Linthicum’s case. We have seen Black Americans experiencing mental health episodes killed during encounters with police.
I’m not convinced the same respect and deference for human life would have been afforded Linthicum had he been an African American, and this lack of confidence disappoints me far greater than the words in this piece could ever describe.
Just think about it. Imagine a series of events in which an African American man would have shot two police officers, almost killing one and injuring the other, before stealing one of their police cars with guns and ammo inside. Then, he would lead federal, state and local authorities on a three-day, multi-jurisdictional manhunt, followed by an hourslong standoff.
Does anyone believe the African American would be alive today, unscathed and ready to stand trial for his criminal offenses?
I want to make sure to give credit to the brave men and women in law enforcement who were assigned the task of taking Linthicum into custody. They exercised great restraint, especially given the enormously perilous situation they confronted in the pursuit and apprehension of an armed and dangerous would-be cop killer.
Beyond that, Linthicum’s arrest, as opposed to his being handled with lethal force, leaves many questions and great consternation in my mind about how racial bias either consciously or subconsciously factors into an officer’s decision to employ such force, and to what extent, and why.
Does a suspect become more dangerous because he or she is African American and less dangerous because he or she is white, no matter the crime? Does a suspect become more guilty and less worthy to live because he or she is African American than would be the case if he or she were white?
I’ll let you be the judge, but a study authored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says Black people are more than three times as likely as white people to be killed during an encounter with police.
Time and time again, when the subjects of police interactions are white — even when they are suspected of committing some of the nation’s most heinous crimes — we see reasonable efforts made by law enforcement to not only preserve their lives but to also prevent physical harm from being visited upon them. One can find example after example of this, combined with the research and data.
In the end, this leads to a conclusion that law enforcement has the knowledge, education, training and skill to apprehend suspects in the most tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situations and still preserve life. They always have. But they just don’t have the will to preserve the lives of African Americans, and in some cases, other nonwhites, when placed in similar situations.
To me, that is a shameful indictment of the hiring, training and retention process of our law enforcement agencies today. It puts a stain on our city, state and country.
I cannot help but to reflect upon the similarities and differences in outcomes between the Linthicum case and that of my client, Korryn Gaines. Gaines, a 23-year-old African American and mother of two, was shot and killed by Baltimore County Police Officer Royce Ruby. Ruby shot Gaines during an hourslong police standoff and less than two minutes after authorities deactivated her social media accounts, which were being used to livestream her encounter with police.
Gaines was thought to be armed when she was holed up in her apartment with her 5-year-old son, who was also injured when Ruby shot him in the face and blew off his elbow with his high-powered assault rifle. Gaines’ perimeter, like Linthicum’s, was surrounded. There were close to 40 uniformed officers present and a SWAT team that had snipers trained on every window of her unit.
The family filed a lawsuit against Officer Ruby and Baltimore County for the wrongful death of Korryn Gaines. A Baltimore County jury awarded family members close to $38 million in damages. I know for a fact that Korryn Gaines’ mother, Rhanda Dormeus, would give back every dime of her settlement plus interest if Gaines could return to her. Ruby, who remained on the police force, was promoted to corporal.
Fortunately, the Linthicum family will never experience this type of pain. No one should.
Justice is born of the will to do what’s right without prejudice or favor. To achieve a more perfect union, we must stop defending excuses for the racial bias, prejudice and white privilege, and start dismantling it. Until the will is there to tear down these disabling social constructs, it’ll always be debated whether a true justice system exists.
J. Wyndal Gordon practices civil and criminal law in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. He successfully represented the estate, mother and daughter of Korryn Gaines in the lawsuit that arose from her killing.