A homeless man suffering from mental illness was fatally shot by police in broad daylight in Oklahoma on Friday. The man reportedly had a knife in his hand but officers, after failing to overpower him, fired bullets at him, killing him instantly. A video of the incident that went viral on social media within minutes sparked protests in Oklahoma.
Although police initially did not identify the man, his family said the victim was Bennie Edwards, a Black man in his 50s who was suffering from bipolar schizophrenia but could never pose a threat to anyone's life. Oklahoma City Police have launched an investigation into Edwards' killing.
On Friday afternoon, officers received a 911 call about some disturbance in front of Extra Cash Gold & Loan in northern Oklahoma City and responded to the scene. On arriving, the officer found a Black man, Edwards, standing outside the store. Soon the officer realized that he had a knife in his hand and anticipating he could pose a threat, called for backup.
Edwards, according to police, was moving toward the officer with the knife. However, the video that has gone viral doesn't seem to show him posing any danger for the officers. According to police, after two more officers reached the scene, they warned Edwards multiple times to drop the knife but he was in no mood to listen to them. Instead, police claim that he started approaching them with the knife.
According to Oklahoma City Police Captain Dan Stewart, the officers had exhausted all non-lethal efforts to subdue Edwards, trying pepper spray and a Taser, but neither was effective. Finally, without taking much risk, they fired at Edwards. "Things happen quickly and this whole situation happened quickly, and the officers had to respond with the information they had at the time, and it was very fluid, it was happening very fast," Stewart said.
Who is Responsible?
The video shot by a bystander that has now gone viral shows Edwards immediately collapsing on the ground and officers then rushing toward him to overpower him and grab the knife. However, Edwards' family sees the incident and video differently.
The video immediately sparked protests with demonstrators taking to the streets joined by Edwards' family who are citing it as another instance of police brutality. "I've seen the video. My brother, he's paranoid schizophrenic and they rushed him. When they were coming at him, he got scared and started running and they started shooting," said Edwards' brother, Gregory Edwards.
According to his family, Edwards never posed a threat. He was standing in front of the store which the storekeepers didn't like and informed police to tackle and remove him. But police took Edwards as a threat. Because he was living with bipolar schizophrenia, his family said he chose to live on the street and he held a knife because he thought he was in danger.
"He probably thought that he was in danger. He wouldn't hurt a fly. And had they stopped and talked to him, they would have known...they would have known that," said Edwards' niece, Ameerah Gaines.
An investigation has been launched into the incident and the officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave.