The killing of an unarmed teenager, even one who had been in a car full of young men armed to the teeth only moments before, is never anything but a tragedy. But in the case of Deandre Baldon, all appearances are that the incident of July 9 was a tragedy that cannot be blamed on the police officer who fired the fatal round.
Officer Gerald Smith was, according to official reports, in genuine hot pursuit of three young men who had just abandoned a car from which they had been firing upon, and wounding, a man in another vehicle. When that man sought aid at the Northeast District Police Station on Bailey Avenue, Smith set out after the attackers' car.
The suspects soon abandoned their vehicle and started running, failing to heed Smith's calls for them to halt and surrender. When Smith noticed one of the suspects and detected a glint of metal on his person, he had to make a split-second decision as to whether to fire. He had every reason to believe he was facing an armed and dangerous man.
Turned out that Baldon wasn't quite so dangerous at that moment, the trio's considerable firepower having been left behind in their car. But the reasoning of the officer, the most than can be humanly expected in such circumstances, was that this was a case where those who stop to ask questions first may get shot immediately. The question asked by the dead man's loved ones, why the young man couldn't have been shot in the foot instead of the chest, is understandable. But that would require the kind of luck and marksmanship that only happens in the movies. Police, for equally understandable reasons, aren't trained that way.
The case appropriately will be referred to a grand jury for investigation, and that process should lead wherever the facts take it. A full and open process is essential for public faith in our police and criminal justice system.
But if the facts are as they have been presented so far, then the officer involved did his painful and dangerous duty, and no official or public recrimination is justified.