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On May 28, 2022, the life of Sean Bickings, a 34-year-old Black man, was taken because police officers refused to do their job.
The incident unraveled when Tempe Police in Arizona received a call about domestic violence between Bickings and his wife by the Tempe Center for the Arts, located near the bridge.
When officials arrived at the scene, they first spoke with Bickings’ wife about the domestic violence, and she denied the allegations of any physical altercation between the two. Next, the officers came to Bickings about the incident, and he also opposed anything happening.
After both dismissed the allegations, the three officials began running their names through a database, used to indicate if people have eminent arrest warrants. They claimed it was standard procedure.
At about 5:12am, Bickings climbed over a 4-foot metal fence to get into the water, asking the officers, “I’m going to go for a swim. I’m free to go, right?” and an officer replies, “You can’t swim in the lake, man.” One officer said to another, “How far do you think he’s going to be able to swim?” One officer told the other two to “keep an eye” on Bickings, while he left the area.
Bodycam: Tempe Police Officers refuse to aid drowning Black man
In the bodycam, provided to Fox 10 Phoenix, they capture the encounter the officers had with Bickings, along with the moments leading up to the drowning.
Temple Police released a transcript of the conversation between an officer, identified as “Officer 1” and Bickings, in which he told Bickings that he won’t be going to save him.
“I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown,” Bickings told the officers.
“No you’re not, come back over to the pylon,” said “Officer 2” in the transcript.
“I can’t. I can’t.” stated Bickings.
“OK, I’m not jumping in after you,” said Officer 1.
“Please help me. Please, please, please.” Bickings begged the officers for their assistance.
Watching Bickings struggle helplessly, the officer claimed that they were following their training. They were seeing him drown, knowing they had all the power to prevent him from dying.
Witnessing her husband drown in front of her eyes, Bickings’ wife pleads to the officers to go save her husband, but they threaten to detain her saying, “If you don’t calm down, I’m going to put you in my car.” The officers also told the wife to “chill out.”
How can she calm down when the love of her life is dying and the police are refusing to save him?
Officers placed on paid leave after drowning death
Bickings told the officers, “I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help.” Since the police would not save her husband, she attempted to do it herself, by going in the lake to get him, but police stopped her.
As Tempe police officers, it is their job to protect and ensure the safety of all citizens. After hearing that Bickings was in distress, the police officers watched him suffer and fight for his life above water. The officers who are supposed to protect us watched an innocent black man drown.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies prove that racial and ethnic disparities are connected with drowning deaths. Between 1999 and 2010, data collected identified that Black people under the age of 29 were 1.4 times more likely to die from drowning than a white person.
At 11:30 a.m. that morning, Bickings’ body was pulled from the water. Tempe Fire’s Dive and Rescue team found him by Tempe Town Lake, near the Tempe Center of Arts. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Following the death of Bickings, citizens were outraged at the lack of response by the Tempe Police, requesting DPS and Scottsdale police to analyze the police’s response to his drowning.
After further examination, “The three Temple police officers who responded to the call and witnessed the drowning have been placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the investigations, as is customary in critical incidents.”
Despite the officers’ refusal to save Bickings, they are still put on paid leave. Although police officers have the power to prevent a death, they refused to help, and still managed to receive minimum consequences for their lack of involvement.