Dear Mr. Patrick Harmon,
One day last week, I woke up from a broken sleep and instinctively opened Facebook.
That was the first time I’d seen your face— a friend of mine had posted a video of the last few minutes of your life.
Graphic Video: Bodycam Shows Cop Fatally Shooting Fleeing Utah Man
Word has it that you’d been riding your bike on that August evening — across multiple lanes of light traffic, some would say. No one but you knew where you were heading and curiosity about your destination wasn’t at all the highest item on the police officers' task list.
And so the Salt Lake City Police cut your bike-ride short for brief questioning and an attempted arrest.
I’ll never get to tell you the following four things because you’re no longer with us. You’ll never again get to talk with your sister and niece on the phone, laugh with your friends or ride your bike again. But I hope these words — even from a stranger like me — will put your soul at ease.
1. You are NOT the scariest moment of Officer Fox’s life.
The man who shot you, Officer Clinton Fox, reportedly told investigators that the last moments of your life were his scariest. You had taken off running just as Officer Fox’s colleague was placing you in handcuffs. And some people who have closely examined the video footage say that you turned around waving a knife, threatening to cut the Officers in pursuit.
But I don’t buy it, Mr. Harmon.
You were a 50-year-old Black man with a medium build, a backpack, and a bike. The anguish and tears on your face told stories of fear and desperation before they told stories of a murderous rage. You were trying to get yourself together, trying to get right with God.
There was a warrant out with your name on it, a relic from a more aggressive moment in your life. Chances are you weren't just running from a 300% higher chance that you were going to be harmed or even killed by Fox and his colleagues.
You were also running from the permanence of a jail cell, from the cementing of your past and toward the freedom to live and change your own fate.
Certainly, there are things far scarier than who you were and what you did, Mr. Harmon. Careening down the highway at 60 miles per hour knowing black ice can— at any moment— slip between you and the pavement is scarier than you.
The mere thought of losing a loved one is scarier than you. Watching a unique era of international terrorism get ushered into your lifetime by the involuntary demolition of three government buildings is scarier than you. A 50-year-old criminal suspect running toward an officer (as opposed to away from an officer) is scarier than you.
And I’m willing to bet that the uncertainty alone of two military deployments, with no assurance of your return or of what things to expect while on your assignment, are far scarier than you.
Officer Fox has undoubtedly experienced more than half of those scary things, Mr. Harmon. Please, don’t believe his lie about those moments.
2. Running from the police is not worthy of a death sentence.
There are people who have had trouble reconciling this truth with their own convictions, Mr. Harmon. Indeed, the police force is a vital and necessary element of any civilized, modern society. There are laws to which we’ve all committed ourselves and we need the police to enforce them. However, the responsibility to enforce the law does not entail the freedom to interpret the law. It does not entail the freedom to sentence you to death without the opportunity for you to sit before a jury of your peers.
The truth of the matter is that Officer Fox and his colleagues had the means and the training to enact some other solution before shooting you three times in the back. They could have pursued and apprehended you. They could have attempted further de-escalation. They could have even tased you. But Officer Fox chose to reach for his gun and continue shooting after hiring the first shot.
In just seconds, you went from suspect to defendant to inmate to deceased.
And not because you ran. Not because you were more dangerous than all the other suspects they’ve undoubtedly detained without use of fatal force. No, Mr. Harmon: you were sentenced to death because Officer Fox decided that was your just punishment. Despite what the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office says, he had no right to make that decision.
3. I’m so sorry for your loss.
Your sister Antoinette told us that your brother’s death hit you pretty hard several years ago. I haven’t experienced the pain of losing a sibling but I’ve seen others plunge into the uniqueness of that grief and struggle for a lifetime to dig themselves out.
You deserve to know that your grief was real and valid, Mr. Harmon. I hope you had someone with whom to share your pain — it had been so long since your sister and the rest of your family in Utah had heard from you. My heart breaks to know that you may have been hurting the night you died, plagued by the persistent ache of loss.
Please know that, along with your family, I grieve your loss with you.
4. Thank you and I love you.
Your sister raved about you to the reporters the week Salt Lake City decided not to prosecute Officer Fox for your death. She said you were “goofy and fun to be around”, that you were a provider and protector for your family when they could enjoy the treasure of your presence.
You were a blessing to those around you, Mr. Harmon and, for that, I say, "Thank you." Thank you for being you.
I want you to know that even in the few days that I’ve known you, even without having met you, I have hoped all the best things for you. I would have cherished the chance to have been patient with you and kind to you in your moments of humanity; to honor you; to seek the things of your heart with you; to protect you, trust you and persevere with you.
But the only tokens of love I can offer you now are my grief and my commitment to advocating for you against those who tell your story without compassion.
I hope that’s enough for you to rest easy, Mr. Harmon. I hope that’s enough to give you peace.