What You Mean When You Say “He Should Have Obeyed the Police”

David Valdes
6 min readAug 30, 2020

Maybe you’ve already heard this story:

On August 23, a caller alerted police to a domestic incident involving a man perceived as dangerous. When police arrived on the scene, they discovered the man’s child also present. The man was not compliant with orders, so police, fearful for their safety, did what they needed to do to control the situation.

You couldn’t miss it, right? So let’s have a pop quiz. Should be easy.

Name the city.

Name the suspect.

Explain how the incident ends.

If you answered Kenosha, Jacob Blake, and “he was shot 7 times in the back” — you get zero points.

The correct answers are: Draper, Utah; Richard Grant Lees; and the police let him calm down.

Bonus question: Which one of those two men was Black?

I’m not the first person to make this comparison. How could I be, when the two incidents occurred only hours apart and the cases have such overlap? But national news coverage has comparatively skipped right over the Lees story; most media outlets, which have given the Kenosha PD a platform to say they acted rightly, have ignored the glaring parallels.

Maybe that’s because the Lees story doesn’t fit the twin truisms of the moment: that a suspect’s non-compliance always grants permission for use of force and that police who feel at all threatened are justified in taking lethal action. Lees, brandishing an AR-15 at an officer, refused multiple orders to lay it down. In fact, he did the opposite: he tried to kill the police with it.

Yet not a single shot was fired back. Why?

The officer involved explained that he could see that Lee’s son was nearby and he didn’t want to risk harm to the boy, a valid ethical concern. Instead of further engaging, he allowed Lees to calm down and eventually surrender.

That’s called de-escalation, which the U.S. Justice Department describes as: “The strategic slowing down of an incident in a manner that allows officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility during dynamic situations on the street. These specific skills increase the potential for resolving the…

David Valdes

David Valdes is a Cuban-American author who writes about family, race, and LGBTQ issues. His book Brighter than the Moon releases in January 2023.