Louisville bodycam footage shows the tragic and brutal reality of policing in America
In a nation with many guns, serving and protecting means keeping people safe from gun violence.
What it means to protect and serve in a country awash with guns.
The body-camera footage of the two Louisville police officers who ran into gunfire on Kentucky's streets Monday is harrowing and humbling. It shows the pressures placed on the police to respond to America’s increasing number of mass shootings, as well as the price they could pay.
The video of what appears to be a street fight that is more like a war zone in a foreign country than a US town basking in the sun offers a visceral response to the shoulder shrug often seen after gun massacres.
This is a frightening, raw scene that's laced with heroism and courage. This is a stark reminder of what happens in times of terror. It makes the usual post-massacre rituals like 'thoughts, prayers and calls for gun control' look hollow by comparison.
Some may question whether Americans need to see the disturbing footage. It provides context for the often bitter and futile debates about how to stop mass killings, and helps the public to understand the horror that they involve.
The video is breathtaking. It shows rookie officer Nickolas Wilt and his training officer Cory "CJ" Galloway driving to the scene. Wilt, after they have taken fire from the inside of the bank, slams his car into reverse and gets out with his pistol. Galloway rushes to the trunk in order to retrieve his service weapon. They both hurried up the steps without hesitation, despite not knowing where the shooter was. Galloway was suddenly on the ground with a minor wound from a gunshot after an ear-splitting burst of firing. Wilt is shot in the head in this footage. He's another victim of weapons of war, which are the weapon of choice for mass killers. He was a good guy who had a gun, but he lost to a bad man with a stronger weapon.
Galloway is heard scrambling for cover and talking with other officers to try and get a fix of the shooter's location - behind the glare from the glass, which means that he can see but they cannot see him. Galloway, in control and focused, strategizes how to take on the shooter and help Wilt.
It is important to act quickly. In a series of shots, the gunman makes a fatal mistake, breaking the window of the bank where four victims were already dead and another mortally wounded. Galloway now has a clear view. He fires and shouts, "I think he is down... get the officer!" Wilt was his trainee who had been shot only four times on patrol. He is in critical condition in hospital.
What you saw on that video was absolutely incredible. When he released the footage, Deputy Louisville Police chief Paul Humphrey stated, 'It's tragic, but it's amazing.
There are only a handful of people in this nation who can do what you did. Not everyone can do that.
An urgent response
Two weeks earlier, police in Nashville aired footage of officers rushing into an elementary school to try and stop a shooter that had killed six people including three nine-year olds. The two sequences of these recent mass killings were compared to footage from a shooting at a Uvalde school last year, where 19 children and 2 adults died.
Although the circumstances were not directly comparable, both Nashville and Louisville showed a sense of urgency to stop the attacker before anyone else died. This was in line with the police training in such situations. The footage from Texas showed confusion, poor communication and delays among the officers during an operation that was criticized by authorities and parents.
Police will respond as long as America's cycle of mass killings continues - there is no sign that it will end - Political system is in a deadlock on this issue. The calls for increased investment in mental healthcare after such tragedies never seem to be heeded on a level that could stop these tragedies. Many gun enthusiasts prioritize their right of bear arms above the lives and freedoms of those who are killed by powerful firearms.
Inability to act by politicians is in stark contrast to the courage shown by those two officers from Louisville.
It's a sad and brutal part of American law enforcement. Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Officer Wilt was killed while trying to protect other people.
It's a remarkable, heart-pounding and terrifying video. We have witnessed an act of heroism which likely saved many people's lives.
Some police leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated about the dangers their officers face, while state and national leaders refuse to change gun laws.
Jeri William, then-Phoenix Police chief, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, in June 2022: 'We're outgunned. We're also outmanned. We're understaffed. Responsible gun legislation is needed.'
Robert Luna, Los Angeles County sheriff, told CNN that his officers must continue to be trained for active shooter scenarios. We don't want this to happen. Statistic tells us that it will happen. "And here is where we challenge our national leaders to do more on guns, to focus more on mental health, so that we won't be doing this again and again."
Police bodycam footage in contrast
Images of courageous police officers rushing to danger in the last few weeks are not what Americans have been used to watching on television. The most popular police bodycam videos show scenes of brutality by police officers. The release of the shocking officer and surveillance video from the arrest of Tyre Nichls in January, who was beaten and later died by Memphis police officers, has triggered national outrage.
The split-screen is a good reminder that, while partisan politics can paint a simplistic impression of American policing, both heroism as well as cruelty exist and the reality is nuanced.
Charles Ramsey, former Philadelphia and Washington, DC, Police Chief, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, that authorities have learned the importance of showing the public as soon as possible what happened on camera footage. He said that 'things have changed' in the policing world.
This was an incident that put the police in a good light. They had every right to release this.
The footage was a heroic counterpoint to the depraved behaviour of the shooter who live-streamed his rampage in the bank on social media.
Humphrey stated that he could see the tension on the video and understand the stress the officers were experiencing. The response was not perfect, but exactly what we needed.
"I would have loved to ride with either of these officers any day."