A Tragic Shooting, And The Hard Road To Resolution

Aug 19, 2019

Sometimes justice makes nobody happy. And that is where I think we have landed in the death of Danquirs Franklin.

Last week the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office chose not to prosecute Charlotte police officer Wende Kerl, who shot and killed Franklin outside a Burger King back in March.

You can tell the whole tragic story as a series of buts. Kerl shot Franklin as he was pulling a gun out of his pocket. But it doesn’t look as if Franklin pulled the gun in a way that would make him ready to fire. But the Burger King manager, who was in a car that Franklin was squatting beside, told investigators that he, the manager, thought he was about to get shot. But Kerl and another officer at the scene were telling Franklin to both show his hands and to drop the weapon. But before the police got there, Franklin had waved his gun inside the Burger King and assaulted his former girlfriend, who worked there, and her new boyfriend.

And the whole confrontation between the officers and Franklin lasted just 36 seconds.

We saw most of that on the video from Kerl’s body camera. It is tempting to break down that video frame by frame, slow it down like an NFL replay, to prove whatever it is we might believe. But no one in that moment had a slo-mo button or a zoom lens. They had to act in real time, a suspect and an officer, both holding guns.

Franklin’s last words, as he lay dying, were “You told me to …” which seems to mean that he intended to put the gun down. But there’s no way of knowing. No one in that moment could read minds, either.

It always makes sense to take a thorough look at a police shooting, but especially one like this. It has become a fairly obvious fact at this point that many black Americans, some of them unarmed and innocent, have lost their lives to overzealous cops. It’s only natural to be skeptical about every shooting that’s a judgment call.

It’s also fair to ask why the DA’s office didn’t take the case to court and let a jury decide. But the question, legally, is not actually whether Kerl was correct to shoot. The question is whether it was reasonable for her to feel as if she needed to.

I’ve watched that video many times now, wondering what I might’ve done as a trained police officer in that situation. Sometimes I wonder what I might’ve done as Danquirs Franklin, stuck in trouble of my own making, maybe not sure how to work my way out. There are a dozen different ways that moment could have ended.

The way it did end is tragic for the Franklin family, and I’m sure haunting for Wende Kerl. It is too late for anything that happened there to make anyone happy. Sometimes the best we can do is try to stumble toward what is right. 

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.