Editorials, Opinion

‘Standard procedure’ is the problem

In the predawn hours of May 21, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Deputies surrounded Chin Orih’s home, guns drawn. The sound of a deputy banging on their door woke Orih and his wife around 5 a.m., but there was no announcement of “police” to accompany the loud knocking. According to his own Facebook post from that same day, Orih, who is Black, quickly dressed while his wife checked the security cameras. The surveillance system was the only reason Orih knew it was police at his door and not a potential intruder or other threat.

Deputies only holstered their guns after Orih opened the door and they could see he was not their suspect. A vehicle registered to Orih matched a partial plate and description of a car seen at a shooting in Marion County. The vehicle was not on the property; it was parked at a garage on Chestnut Ridge.

In his own words, “At that hour, the reasonable thing for me to have done (not knowing who was at my door absent of a surveillance system) would have been to grab my gun to go see.”

Had Orih answered the door holding a gun, the story may have ended very differently.

Instead of reporting on a citizen grievance about the deputies’ conduct, we might have been reporting an officer-involved shooting, possibly one ending in death, and Morgantown could have joined the list of cities across the nation this past year where police shot an innocent Black man.

As Sheriff Perry Palmer and Chief Deputy of Law Enforcement Mark Ralston spoke with The Dominion Post and said, in essence, that everything the deputies did was standard procedure.

And that’s the problem.

We understand officers want to  go home to their families.

But so do the people staring down the barrel of an officer’s gun.

Our justice system operates on “innocent until proven guilty,” but our law enforcement system operates on “guilty and a danger to officers until the threat is neutralized.” And too often, “neutralized” results in “dead,” especially if the perceived threat is a Black man.

Which is why we can understand Orih’s anger. From 2020 to now, 343 Black men were shot and killed by police, according to a Washington Post database.

This seems to be a fatal flaw in our law enforcement system. Officers — who receive extensive training teaching them how to protect themselves and each other, as well as defensive equipment such as bulletproof vests — have too much leeway to use force of varying degrees against less-protected individuals who are assumed to be a danger until proven otherwise.

Orih is clear he’s not mad at the deputies themselves. His anger — reflected in last summer’s protests against police brutality — is at the system and leadership that deems him an immediate threat that warrants surrounding his home with armed deputies because of partial plate match — and then shrugs off his fear for his life.

It’s why cities across the nation have pushed for greater police oversight. Morgantown now has such a review board for Morgantown Police. Maybe it’s time to look into establishing civilian oversight for the Mon County Sheriff’s Department as well.