A white Indiana man gave police a novel explanation for why he drew his gun and threatened an unarmed black man before firing a shot: He was trying to help the intoxicated stranger get safely out of the street.
Police didn’t buy it, and now Bryan Oedzes is charged with aggravated discharge of a weapon in the village limits of Flossmoor, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
He is also charged with a hate crime.
Deputy Police Chief Tod Kamleiter told The Washington Post that Oedzes yelled the n-word at the man and said “you don’t belong here” before firing his gun on Aug. 22.
The victim can be seen on surveillance video dropping to the ground at the sight of the gun, Kamleiter said. Later, the man backs away with his hands raised. Then there’s a bright muzzle flash.
The incident occurred outside the Flossmoor Brewery, according to the police report written by a responding officer. The victim, the officer wrote, “informed me he was walking down the west sidewalk by the Village Gift Shop … when a male white subject who was walking southbound down the same sidewalk confronted him and said, ‘You need to get the f— out of here! You don’t belong here!’ ”
The white male, later identified as Oedzes, pulled a gun and pointed it at the man, prompting the victim to ask Oedzes: “What, you going to shoot me?”
“Fearing for his life,” the officer wrote, the victim “turned and ran eastbound toward the Flossmoor Brewery when the offender fired a round from the pistol.” The victim wasn’t injured.
Kamleiter said the victim — who was not named by police — was drunk when he was interviewed. In a second interview, the man told investigators that Oedzes had used a racial slur, calling him the n-word.
Oedzes didn’t return messages left by The Washington Post, but he has defended himself in interviews, telling police and the Chicago Tribune that he was trying to help the man get to safety. “I wanted to make sure he got out of the street and didn’t get hurt,” Oedzes told the Tribune. “Unfortunately, he approached us.”
But, he says, he began to worry about his own safety when the man began to approach. Oedzes told the Tribune that he has multiple sclerosis and wouldn’t be able to physically fight the man. “We were faced with an imminent and serious threat,” he said. “I asked him not to come any nearer, but he kept walking toward me. Once he saw I had a gun, he walked away.”
But Oedzes said he still did not feel safe, because he had to turn his back on the man to cross the street and return to the business where he had been working.
Flossmoor Police Chief Michael Pulec condemned Oedzes’s alleged actions.
“Our officers take hate crimes very seriously, and their response was fast and decisive,” he said in a statement. “The Flossmoor Police Department will not tolerate acts of violence against individuals based along the lines of race, religion, gender, or any other identity and violate the basic values of our community. Flossmoor continues to have the lowest crime rate in the south [Chicago] suburbs. This act does not reflect the makeup and values of this community.”
Before the shooting incident, Flossmoor police said, Oedzes had not been accused of a crime in their jurisdiction.
Kamleiter said the victim had every right to walk on the street that night and that a surveillance camera from the brewery showed he never did anything threatening.
“We have nothing to indicate that he should have been in fear for his life,” the deputy chief said. Oedzes “provided us nothing other than the guy approached him. The mere fact that the gentleman, and [Oedzes] referred to him as a ‘gentleman,’ approached him gives him no reason to reach into his bag and pull out his gun.”
The encounter in Illinois was one of several last month in which a benign interaction with a racial component escalated to headline-making violence.
On Aug. 6, a white man in Raleigh, N.C., told 911 dispatchers that he was “locked and loaded” and going to “secure my neighborhood” from a group of black teens attending a party next door. The man, Chad Copley, fired a shot from his garage, killing an unarmed black man.
Less than three weeks later, Deborah Pearl, a black mother of three, was fatally shot by a white man after the two were involved in a traffic collision in Solon, Ohio.
Last year, The Post’s Christopher Ingraham wrote about police officers who took to Reddit to describe the trend of white people calling the police on their black neighbors for doing innocuous things:
The problem? White residents were viewing many of their black neighbors with suspicion. One black homeowner noticed people would snap pictures of his car as he drove around. Another had the cops called on him after he picked up an office chair in an alley that another resident had left out for free.
Plenty of African Americans, particularly men, can tell harrowing stories of times they’ve done something normal that somebody else interpreted as “suspicious.” President Obama’s had experience with this himself.
From the Reddit thread, it’s clear that many cops hate the thought of racially profiling their community members. They’re embarrassed by having to check in on behavior that they know is almost certainly 100 percent innocuous.
Sf7, the cop who started the thread, says he has a strategy for dealing with these calls. He’ll approach the “suspicious person,” and “I will roll up and ask them if they need any help. If they need help, I will help them start their vehicle. If they don’t, I will leave. I am not going to waste their time because some random ***** is being racist. Nope.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Flossmoor is a village in Indiana. The village is in Illinois. This version has been corrected.