At what point would you use lethal force against an unarmed assailant? Have you ever thought about that question before? I mean seriously thought about it, not just as a fleeting cogitation during the commercial break of your favorite police drama. Have you ever sat down and planned how you would respond to different types of assaults on yourself or others with the consideration of using lethal force?
As a store manager, I am very familiar with the practice of contingency planning, and I have thought through the above question many times. For example, when the BLM protests were raging across the nation, I was approached by law enforcement officers and informed of a protest that was being planned near our store. The officers suggested that we take measures to ensure the safety of our customers and employees just in case the protest turned violent. Now, I didn’t think that we were in any real danger that evening, and it turned out that I was right, but I still did some contingency planning to prepare for different scenarios. Let me share one of those scenarios with you.
If an angry mob had formed outside of our business that night, the first thing I would have done is lock the doors and call the sheriff’s department. If they had deputies to spare, they would most likely have positioned themselves in front of the store directly facing the mob. They would probably station one or two deputies behind the store just in case someone tried to enter the store through one of the three access points on that side of the building. I would then usher everyone in the store into the most secure and defensible position available while positioning myself and my brothers outside that position.
If the mob had been determined to break into the store from the front, the sheriff’s deputies would have intervened as best as they could. They would probably have suffered several injuries in the attempt, but I doubt that they would risk their lives or use deadly force at that point in the conflict. Once their line had been breached, they would most likely fall back and allow the mob to loot the front section of the store in hopes that the looting would deter them from any thoughts of violence against the people hiding in the back.
If a portion of the mob had circled around to the back of the store, the one or two deputies positioned there probably would not put up any resistance at all, and I wouldn’t expect them to either. One or two men may be able to hold off a mob of angry people, but the risk of injury and death would have been too great for them to make that attempt at that time. I am sure that the deputies behind the store would have radioed for help and then would have retreated into the store without engaging the mob. If the mob had managed to enter the store from any one of the rear access points, the deputies in that area would have retreated without engagement in hopes that the mob would be deterred from any attack on people by looting the offices and storage spaces just inside the doors.
If a significant portion of the mob were not deterred from their goal of harming the people in the store, I am confident that the sheriff’s deputies would do their best to prevent them from getting to our position. Unfortunately, a large retail space like ours provides too many avenues of travel for a small force of deputies to contain a determined mob. The deputies would have been very quickly overwhelmed and surrounded, and while they would have continued their attempts to quell any violence, I doubt that they would have been very successful in those attempts. I also doubt that they would have used lethal force at this time since the mob would not yet have located the people hiding in the store.
At this point, the sheriff’s deputies would cease to be a reliable asset in my contingency planning. They would have been cut off from our position and unable to get to us without a lot of unnecessary bloodshed. The protection of my customers and employees would then have fallen to me and my brothers as the last line of defense standing between an angry mob and the targets of their desire for violence.
We would have barricaded the single doorway into our location. We would have placed the people under our protection under the tables around the corner from the door. And I would have positioned myself just inside of the barricade with my weapon drawn. If this scenario had played out, and if that final barricade had been breached by an angry mob, I would not have hesitated to use lethal force to prevent the mob from entering the room where my customers and employees were hiding.
If these events had played out, if I had actually shot and killed someone to prevent an angry mob from harming people under my protection, I have no doubt at all that I would have been decried as a murderer by those who sympathized with the ideals of the mob. I am absolutely certain that people would have criticized me for using lethal force when they are certain that some other means would have sufficed. And I am beyond positive that the media would have portrayed me as a crazed racist killer who had attacked peaceful protestors.
Many would have claimed that the individual who had been shot never intended to actually harm anyone in the store. Others would have pointed to the fact that the deputies behind the building had allowed the mob to enter unopposed as evidence that the entire event had been as peaceful as a stroll in the park until I had fired on an innocent bystander. I am sure that others would have scoured my facebook feed to find every time that I have voiced disagreement with the BLM movement, and I am sure that they would have used this to cast doubt on my motives for firing my weapon.
All of this would certainly have occurred in the aftermath, but none of it would have changed the fact that using lethal force in that particular situation would have been completely justified. According to the Code of Alabama where my business is located:
A person may use deadly physical force, and is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person ... if the person reasonably believes that another person is:
(1) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.
(2) Using or about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling while committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling.
(3) Committing or about to commit a kidnapping in any degree, assault in the first or second degree, burglary in any degree, robbery in any degree, forcible rape, or forcible sodomy.
(4) Using or about to use physical force against an owner, employee, or other person authorized to be on business property when the business is closed to the public while committing or attempting to commit a crime involving death, serious physical injury, robbery, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, or a crime of a sexual nature involving a child under the age of 12.
(5) In the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered, a dwelling, residence, business property, or occupied vehicle … or is attempting to remove, or has forcefully removed, a person against his or her will from any dwelling, residence, business property, or occupied vehicle when the person has a legal right to be there, and provided that the person using the deadly physical force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring.
In the above scenario, the use of lethal force would have been justified under four of the five potential justifications outlined in the law.
(1) It would have been reasonable to assume that an angry mob which had already engaged in violent destruction of property and which had already injured multiple law enforcement officers would have engaged in the unlawful use of deadly physical force if they had captured their intended victims.
(2) Would not have applied in this situation since it is only applicable to dwellings and not to places of business.
(3) The mob would have already committed burglary and robbery, and it would have been reasonable for a person to conclude that the mob would have committed kidnapping, assault, and perhaps even rape and sodomy if they had achieved their goal of capturing the individuals in the store.
(4) The mob would have already used physical force against the deputies while committing a crime involving robbery, and it would have been reasonable to assume that they would have used physical force against the people hiding behind the barricade.
(5) Anyone breaking through the barricade would have been in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering a business property, and it would have been reasonable to believe that an unlawful and forcible act was occurring.
Regardless of how many people may have accused me of murder if I had shot and killed someone coming through a barricaded door to attack people under my protection and regardless of how many people may have claimed that the individual breaking through that door was innocent, the simple fact of the matter would remain that that use of lethal force in this scenario would have been fully justified under the law. Furthermore, if this scenario had played out during a BLM protest, conservative leaders all across the nation would have come to my defense by pointing out that the use of lethal force was justifiable in that situation.
At this point, I’m sure that you know where I’m headed with all of this, but I’m going to spell it out for you anyway. The above scenario is very similar to what happened in the Capitol on January 6th in several respects.
First, many members of the mob on January 6th committed criminal acts by violently forcing their way through a police line. Many members of the mob committed crimes by illegally entering the capitol building after being warned not to do so. Many members of the mob committed additional crimes when they entered the capitol building by breaking windows or by attacking the officers who were trying to keep them out. Many members of the mob committed crimes by vandalizing and looting in the capitol building. Many members of the mob committed crimes by voicing threats of violence including murder against members of Congress and against Vice President Pence.
When Lt. Byrd shot Ashli Babbitt, he did so after she had committed multiple crimes, after she had been warned multiple times to stop, and after she had breached a barricade intended to keep her out. Lt. Byrd was part of the final line of defense protecting the men and women who were the target of the mob’s outrage. If any of the mob had gotten through that line, they would have been in a position to carry out the threats that had been shouted repeatedly throughout the event.
In my fictional contingency plan, it would have been reasonable for me to conclude that anyone forcing their way through the final barricade was doing so with the intent of committing harmful and unlawful acts against the people that the barricade was intended to protect. It was just as reasonable for Lt. Byrd to conclude that anyone coming through the final barricade in the Capitol was doing so with the intent to commit harmful and unlawful acts against the people that he was protecting. If my actions to protect people from BLM rioters would have been justified, then Lt. Byrd’s actions to protect people from Trump’s rioters must also be justified. Lt. Byrd acted legally and correctly, and his actions prevented a mob of criminals from physically assaulting members of Congress.
Why am I bringing this up now? The Trump riot seems to have happened a lifetime in the past, and surely there must be more important things for me to write about. I am bringing this up now for one reason and one reason only. Lt. Byrd was recently interviewed on NBC, and he admitted for the first time in public that he was the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt. I did not watch the interview. I heard about it the following day on one of the most listened-to conservative talk shows in the nation, and the host of this particular show spent the entire segment accusing Lt. Byrd of murdering an innocent woman who posed no threat to him.
After hearing the host make that accusation, I decided to check what other conservative leaders and pundits were saying, and I found that many of them were saying the same thing. They were all accusing Lt. Byrd of murdering an innocent woman, and I just couldn’t sit here and listen to such tripe without responding.
Ashli Babbitt was shot while attempting to breach the last line of defense between a violent mob and its intended victims. She had committed multiple crimes prior to making that attempt, and she had been warned by multiple police officers to stop. She was at the forefront of a mob that had repeatedly shouted threats of violence and death against the people who were huddled under desks behind Lt. Byrd. (And by the way, why was a woman the first one over this barricade? There were several men in the mob right next to her. Why did they let a woman be the first one to charge into a line of drawn service weapons?) Ashli Babbitt was not an innocent woman, and she was not just a woman. She was the spearhead of a violent mob attempting to harm the people that Lt. Byrd was protecting.
There is one reason, and one reason alone for all these conservatives to accuse Lt. Byrd of murder, and that is simply that they are repeating what Donald Trump had already decreed to be the truth. Trump has insisted since day one that all of the rioters were innocent and harmless, and he has repeatedly accused Lt. Byrd of murdering Ashli Babbitt.
The Republicans are responding to Trump’s statements in the exact same way that they have responded to everything that he has said since winning the Republican nomination in 2016. They have assumed that everything Trump says must be true because he’s so much smarter and so much more in-the-know than they are, and the few who take the time to actually think about Trump’s claims are too afraid of Trump’s retribution to contradict him.
The Republican Party has become a revolting milieu of sycophants willing to say anything to pamper the ego of their overrated messiah. Every Republican politician who has repeated Trump’s lies about Lt. Byrd should be thrown out of office. The pundits who have echoed those lies across the airwaves should all be fired. And if I were Lt. Byrd, I would sue every single one of them into oblivion.
There is no excuse for this garbage. If you’re ignorant about what happened and about Lt. Byrd’s legal responsibilities, then you should just keep your mouth shut. If you’re in a position to know better, then you have a responsibility to not just refrain from repeating Trump’s lie but to call him out for it and denounce him. This brownnosing fetish has gone too far, and it must stop.
The shooting of Ashli Babbitt was fully justified. Every Republican leader knows that it was fully justified. Every conservative pundit should know that it was fully justified, and you should be ashamed of yourself if you’ve allowed them to convince you otherwise. Yes, I know that’s harsh, but it’s nowhere near as harsh as condemning a police officer as a murderer just because the criminal that he shot happened to have been promoting something you believe in. Lt. Byrd did exactly what he should have done in that situation, and every man reading this would have done the same thing in his position (except, of course, the spineless cowards who let a woman lead the charge into a line of drawn service weapons).
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)