Desmond Phillips Shooting: Why Haven’t We Talked About This?

Desmond Phillips, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Chico, California police. Let’s examine what led up to the shooting.

Police shooting and killing innocent people of color unfortunately seems to be the thing of the year. This coverage has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement and has resulted in protests all over the country.



After these cases are investigated, we usually see police officers let off the hook. In the Michael Brown case, the officer wasn’t even prosecuted. These cases are very difficult to judge because it is incredibly uncertain to be a police officer in that situation. However, systemic racism plays a definite role in many unnecessary arrests and shootings, and we need to recognize that.

Oftentimes, it really seems like it’s going to be impossible to justify the legitimate need for lethal force. Yet, the justice system will, more often than not, find a way to justify it.

Unfortunately, another such case has occurred; but has not been talked about too much. Desmond Phillips, a 25-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Chico, California police. Let’s examine what led up to the shooting.

Phillips Family Calls for Help

On March 17, 2017, Desmond Phillip’s father, David, called 911 for an ambulance because his mentally ill son was having an “episode.” Medics and firefighters arrived five minutes later and found Desmond dancing with headphones and sunglasses. They reported he was in a “trance-like state.”



According to David, his son had been like that for the past two hours. He added that his son suffered mental problems including post-traumatic stress disorder after being beaten by police in 2016 and being hospitalized for four days as a result.

When medics tried to escort Desmond out, he did become violent, so firefighters called 911. Minutes later, David Phillips called 911 too and requested police assistance. Police who had already arrived on the scene called in for back-up.

Police Use Lethal Force

Officers kicked open the front door to the home and used a Taser on Desmond, but this only subdued him for a brief moment. He got up and, according to officers, “advanced” with a knife in each hand. Officers fired 16 shots and struck Desmond 10 times. Desmond was killed.

Investigating officers found Desmond had a sharp splinter from the broken door jam in his right hand. Two kitchen knives were also found at the scene. Investigators concluded that lethal force was justified. Officers involved returned to full duty and were never prosecuted.

Phillips Family Sues for Wrongful Death

Desmond Phillips’ family sued the police department and filed a wrongful death claim. They sought damages in excess of $25,000 and are contending the police committed wrongful death, assault, negligence, and other violations.

However, investigators concluded that lethal force was necessary; so the Phillips’ claim will not be able to go any farther at this time.

The family says racism was in play that day. They have called Desmond’s death a race-influenced murder. David Phillips says he was seeking help or medicine for his son and that police involvement to that extent was unnecessary. The family claims further that Desmond had been mentally ill for a long time but had never been a legitimate threat to anyone.

David Phillips feels that the police took it upon themselves to be the judge, the jury, and the executioner.

He continued: “Serve and protect. Not seek and destroy. And that’s what they did. They came to murder somebody and that’s what they did. It was murder. That’s all it was. It was hate. Anybody who shoots somebody that many times, how can you explain that?”

An Unfortunately Common Story

The Phillips family believes race played a factor, claiming that had Desmond been white, police would not have used lethal force.

When someone loses their life under any circumstances, a full investigation should be conducted so that all parties involved can get closure. However, it doesn’t feel like justice was carried out here. It seems very excessive that police felt the need to shoot Desmond 16 times, especially when all he had to defend himself was a knife.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Police using excessive force in arrests of people of color has been reported for decades. Some of the most painful cases to swallow are the ones where there is legitimate video evidence showing that lethal force wasn’t necessary, and the cops choose to use it anyway (and get off the hook).

These cases often pick up attention at first, but then get swept under the rug eventually by both the media and the justice system; and the families of the victims are left with no answers, closure, or justice. The Phillips case hasn’t picked up as much media coverage as it potentially should have. Could this case’s lack of media coverage have a racial factor as well? It’s very likely.

If you feel the police should have or could have handled this situation better, check out this website and sign the petition to let your voice be heard.

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is a political writer with an interest in social justice and human rights. If you like her writing, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, “Only Slightly Biased.”
Kate Harveston