For most Americans, the fireworks on the Fourth of July weekend symbolize national prosperity and patriotism. They represent the long and colorful history of sacrifices made for the independence of their country. They trigger a sense of pride. But for one fellow American, Gulia Dale, a black man and a retired army major, that wasn’t the case.
On July 4th 2021, the sounds of fireworks in his town of Sussex, New Jersey revived Gulia dale stressful memories of his time in combat and aggravated the post-traumatic stress he fought after 42 years in the Army. Karen Dale, fearing for her husband’s safety called for help telling a 911 dispatcher he was acting erratically and had a gun. Four minutes later at about 9:30 pm, Dale was backing his car out his driveway when one of the officers responding to the 911 call arrived and blocked him from the front. A second police car pulled from behind pinning him in. “Get out of the truck. Get on the ground,” an officer can be heard yelling in the video footage of the encounter released by New Jersey’s attorney general. The footage shows Major Dale leaving the vehicle, opening a rear door and reaching inside. He then returns to the driver’s seat before quickly exiting and facing at least one of the officers. He was shot as he left the truck “with an object in his hand,” the attorney general’s office said. He was declared dead right at the spot.Civil rights leaders believe race played a role in how officers engaged with the retired major, especially when compared to how they handled an 80 year old white man on a January episode. The man was accused of firing twice at the officers after he called to report that he had a gun and planned to kill himself. The officers did not fire at the man. The situation ended with him being safely apprehended and arrested at a hospital.The contrast in the police response to these situations highlights the inequalities in how police treat white people and people of color even when responding to a mental health crisis. Gulia Dale was not a criminal. That night, he was a man that was suffering from mental imbalance and PTSD. He did not deserve to be approached with guns a blazing while he was having a panic attack. There was no effort from the police to deescalate the situation. Instead, the police approached him with violence.“It was 12 seconds — if that,” his sister, Valerie Cobbertt, said in an interview. “It was just so fast. You didn’t give him a chance.”“I don’t want to say that race played a part in it,” she added. “But it did.”The two officers identified as having fired at Major Dale, Garrett Armstrong and Steven Kneidl, are back to work after taking some time off to have their mental health evaluated. The lawyers said shooting was warranted .“His death is tragic,” Charles J. Sciarra, Officer Armstrong’s lawyer, said of Major Dale. “But we’re certain that all protocols and procedures were followed.”“He reached into his car and came out with a gun,” Mr. Sciarra continued, calling the episode a “no-win situation.”“If they hide behind the cars and the guy drives off and then kills himself or winds up on a shooting spree,” he added, “then everyone is screaming: ‘Why did they let him get away?’However the excuses given don’t explain why the white man was given the benefit of the doubt and not Gulia Dale? Because of the color of his skin, the police saw a black man in a car more threatening than a white one shooting at them. It’s a sad reality but this is the society we live in. A society that perceives black people as a threat merely because they’re black.Gulia Dale is not just another statistic. He was a man who had spent 30 years as an army veteran. A man who made sure none of his troops were ever left behind. A man who had worked at the pentagon. Gulia Dale was a husband. He was also a father. He was killed in a town where he had lived for nearly three decades on the very holiday that honored his greatest quality: Patriotism.