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North Carolina Cop Kills Unarmed, Deaf, Mute Man For Using Sign Language

A paranoid North Carolina state trooper snuffed out the life of a deaf, mute man over what? Speeding and using sign language. WTF!


Is there anyone, besides the majority of white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis men and women, law enforcement will think twice about before gunning down?

Is there any situation or scenario, that requires that they kick into gear their de-escalation training — if, indeed, they’ve gone through any? Is there?

More and more, I have come to believe that there is no citizen too unsuspecting, no situation too mundane. More and more, it seems, we are growing scarily numb to the statistic of people whose lives were cut short, prematurely taken, at the gunpoint of the state.

Sadly, we must add another to this list.

State trooper Jermain Saunders shot and killed Daniel Kevin Harris, a deaf, mute resident of North Carolina, who was attempting to use sign language to communicate with the officer a few feet from his home. He was 29.

Related: If You’re Unarmed, Not Resisting, With Your Hands Up, You’ll Still Be Shot When You’re Black

Sources report that the officer killed Harris “almost immediately” after he stepped out of his vehicle. A neighbor who witnessed the incident, Mark Barringer, had this to say,

“They should’ve de-escalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation. You’re pulling someone over who is deaf, they are handicapped. To me, what happened is totally unacceptable.”

He’s absolutely right. The problem, of course, is that too many police departments across this country are not convinced that there’s a serious, debilitating in-house problem. But I digress, so let’s circle back.

According to police, Saunders tried to pull Harris over for speeding. If that’s true, and if he turned on his sirens, it’s more than obvious why Harris would have appeared not to comply.

However, upon the suspect parking his car, getting out, and — after finally taking note of what was happening — raising his hands to sign; and upon seeing no visible weapon in hand or on his person, why the hell would you proceed to pull out your firearm? Why the hell would you proceed to discharge it? How the hell do you, officers of a professional police department, form your lips to justify the officer’s actions as “standard procedure”? Stop.

Another man is dead because another police officer freaked out and jumped the gun, literally, without bothering to ask questions or follow any sort of use-of-force continuum.

Another family is preparing to bury — in this case cremate — their child because fear and unwarranted frustration got the better of an officer, a person whom even a kindergartner can tell is unfit for duty and in the wrong line of work.

And all of this heartache went down over what? Speeding. And utilizing the particular mode of language you’ve been trained, since birth, to use.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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