Was White Teen Bryce Masters’ Life More Valuable than 92 Black Lives?
On September 14, 2014, 17-year-old Bryce Masters drove to visit a friend, Curtis Martes, and play Xbox. Before he could walk into Martes’ house, Masters was approached by Independence, Missouri, police officer Timothy Runnels. The minor’s license plate matched the plate of a vehicle with a traffic warrant.
What happened next was omitted from the official police report — until dash cam footage (above) of the incident was released and Martes offered his own statement.
Police initially claimed that Masters refused to cooperate with the officer. Martes’ recollection of the situation, corroborated by the footage, tells a different story.
According to Martes, officer Runnels ordered Masters — the son of a Kansas City police officer — to roll down his window. Masters said he couldn’t, and explained why:
“I hear him say from my porch, he’s like, ‘I can’t roll down my window. It’s broke.’ He doesn’t have the cable that allows the electric window to work.”
However, the officer claimed that Masters deliberately refused to roll his window down. He asked Masters to get out the car. Attempting to comply, the 17-year old asked Runnels why. Runnels rebuffed the boy’s question, grabbed him and tased him in the chest for 20 seconds, quadruple the amount of time officers are permitted to use a taser on a suspect.
Another witness, who filmed part of the exchange with her cell phone, described the interaction in this way:
“The cop was like, ‘You want to mess with me,’ and pulled out his Taser and tased him. “I thought he shot him. Then he pulled him out of the car, handcuffed him, and drug him around the car. It looked like he hit his head on the concrete. You could see blood coming out of his mouth. The cop put his foot on his back and moved it back and forth like he was putting a cigarette out and asked him, ‘Are you ready to get up now?’ You could tell the kid was going into convulsions.”
Officer Runnels was swiftly indicted by a federal grand jury, charged with two counts of obstructing justice for falsifying his police report and lying to police investigators. Soon after, he was sentenced to 4 years in jail. Justice was served.
“This former police officer was trained and entrusted to enforce the law impartially. His use of excessive force violated both the public’s trust and his oath to uphold the law,” said U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson.
That’s true. He was trained to act differently, to “enforce the law impartially.” He did “violate the public’s trust” when he violently assaulted and nearly killed this unarmed, white teenage boy. What happened to Masters was a travesty. No parent, no citizen of the state, should have to endure the pain of nearly losing their child to an out-of-control law enforcer. We can all agree that the court did the right thing holding Runnels accountable.
If only the majority of Black victims were afforded the same treatment.
If only justice was given them at the same rate as white victims, such as Bryce.
I have before me a devastating document pertaining to the number of police killings of Black people for the year 2015. Here are the key findings:
- Police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, nearly twice each week.
- Nearly 1 in 3 black people killed by police in 2015 were identified as unarmed, though the actual number is likely higher due to underreporting.
- 37 percent of unarmed people killed by police were black in 2015 despite black people being only 13 percent of the U.S. population
- Unarmed black people were killed at 5 times the rate of unarmed whites in 2015.
- Only 10 of the 102 cases in 2015 where an unarmed black person was killed by police resulted in officer(s) being charged with a crime, and only 2 of these deaths (Matthew Ajibade and Eric Harris) resulted in convictions of officers involved. Only 1 of 2 officers convicted for their involvement in Matthew Ajibade’s death received jail time.
Justice for one unarmed white teen does not make up for other victims whose perpetrators go unpunished and whose stories go unpublicized. However, the numbers presented here, which capture the disproportionate number of black lives taken relative to whites, still stand.
I suspect no one will attempt to rationalize what happened to Masters in the same way that people have blamed another young boy — who was only 12 years old — for his own death at the hands of an officer, for the “crime” of having physical features that read older than his biological age.
Also, Masters made it out alive. Black suspects aren’t that fortunate.