This is what it means to serve and defend a nation awash with weap*ns.
Terrifying but humiliating body camera footage of two Louisville officers who rushed into a gunfight in Kentucky on Monday shows the demands placed on police responding to America’s escalating mass shootings and the terrible price they can pay.
A video of what is actually a street battle that looks more like a foreign war zone than a U.S. city basking in the morning sun offers a visceral antidote to the collective nationwide shrug that often follows massacres.
It is a raw, frightening scene, laced with courage and heroism. He offers to test the reality of what unfolds in moments of terror, and leaves the regular post-massacre political rituals of “thoughts and prayers” and doomed calls for gun reform seeming empty by comparison.
Some may question the need for Americans to view these disturbing footage. But he offers context for the bitter and often futile public debate about how to stop mass shootings, and helps the public understand the horror they entail.
The breathtaking video shows recruit Nicholas Wilt driving up to the scene with his training officer Cory “CJ” Galloway. After they receive fire from inside the bank, Wilt reverses the car before getting out of the gun. Galloway runs to the trunk to retrieve his service rifle. Then, without hesitation, they both climb the stairs, despite having no idea where the shooter actually was, who turned out to be hiding in ambush. Suddenly, Galloway falls to the ground with a minor gunshot wound after deafening gunfire. Wilt, blurred in the footage, lies shot through the head, another victim of the military weap*ns often chosen by mass murderers. He’s a good guy with a gun, outdone by a bad guy with more powerful weap*ns.
Galloway tries to find some cover, and then he is heard talking to other officers trying to locate the shooter – behind the glare of the glass, this means that he can see them, but they cannot see him. Galloway, focused and self-controlled, figures out how to challenge the shooter again and how to help the fallen Wilt.
Acting quickly is critical. And in a volley of shots, the shooter makes a fatal mistake, breaking a window in a bank, where four dead and one mortally wounded are already lying. This gives Galloway an overview. He shoots and shouts: “It seems that he fell … call the officer!” referring to Wilt, his trainee, who was only shot the fourth time he was on patrol. He is in the hospital in critical condition.
“What you saw in this video was just amazing. It’s tragic, but absolutely amazing,” Louisville Police Deputy Chief Paul Humphrey said, posting the video.
“In this country, only a few people can do what they did. Not everyone can do it.”
The Louisville footage was released two weeks after Nashville police released video of police rushing into a school valiantly trying to stop the gunman who killed six people, including three nine-year-olds. Both episodes of these recent mass shootings contrast with police footage of a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last year that killed 19 children and two adults.
While the circumstances cannot be directly compared, the picture in Nashville and Louisville was urgent and called for the arrest of the attacker before more people died – in line with police training for such situations. In Texas last year, footage showed poor communication, confusion and delay between officers during an operation as they were criticized by parents and authorities.
As long as the ongoing cycle of mass shootings in America continues – and there is no sign that it is ending – the police will be called to respond. The political system is deadlocked on this issue. Calls for more investment in mental health in the wake of such killings never seem to materialize on a scale that could stop the tragedies. And many gun enthusiasts seem to prioritize their right to bear arms over the life and freedom of people shot with high-powered firearms.
The failure of politicians to act contrasts with the courage of these two officers in Louisville.
“This is just a tragic and brutal aspect of law enforcement in America. Officer Wilt tries to do his job but gets shot down as he tries to protect others,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.
“This is a wonderful, heartbreaking, frightening video. But once again, we have witnessed an act of incredible heroism that probably saved many lives.”
Some police leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the risks their officers face, while national and state leaders are resisting changes to gun laws.
Then Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2022, “We don’t have guns, we don’t have many people, we don’t have personnel, we really need responsible gun legislation.”
And Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna told CNN why his officers should continue to prepare for active shootings. “We don’t want this to happen. The statistics tell us it will happen,” he said. “And that’s where we’re challenging our leaders at the national level to do more about guns, do more about mental health so we don’t have to do it all over again.”
The images of brave cops heading into danger in recent weeks are different from what Americans are used to seeing on television. Police body camera footage, which has often attracted the most attention, showed the exact opposite—scenes of police brutality. For example, the release of horrifying police and security footage from the January arrest of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by Memphis police and later died in hospital, sparked national outrage.
The split screen is a reminder that while partisan politics often give a simple impression of the state of America’s policing, heroism and brutality coexist and reality is nuanced.
Former Philadelphia and Washington D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that authorities learned of the need to show what happened to the public as quickly as possible from camera footage. “I think something has definitely changed in the police,” he said.
Of course, it was a situation that presented the police in a positive light, so they had every reason to let him go.
But the footage was a heroic counterpoint to the depraved behavior of the Louisville shooter, who was live streaming his bank rampage on social media.
Referring to the body camera footage, Humphrey said: “I think you can see the tension in this video, you can understand the stress these officers are going through. (The answer) wasn’t perfect, but it was exactly the answer we needed.”
“I think I would like at least one of these officers to ride with me every day.”