It was a split-second decision.
A distressed man with a baby in tow was pacing back and forth in a manic state and shouting incoherently. The responding police officer calmly addressed the man in an attempt to calm him down and defuse the situation, but the man suddenly pulled an object from his side and lunged toward the officer. Instinctively, the officer raised his Taser and squeezed the trigger. It turned out the man was armed with a knife, but the "officer," who was actually the firebrand African-American activist known as Quanell X, acknowledged he would have fired whether the assailant had a knife, a spoon or an empty hand.
“I didn’t even see it,” said the leader of the Houston area Black Panther Party, who was taking part in a training scenario in an attempt to understand what police officers go through during high-pressure situations. “It could have been anything in his hand, and I still would have used force to stop him.
“It could have been anything in his hand and I still would have used force to stop him"
- Quanell X, Black Panther Party, Houston Chapter
“It all happened so fast," he added. "You don’t know what they could have in their hand.”
Quanell, a former Nation of Islam member, is one of at least two black activists to take the police training tests. Both he and Arizona activist the Rev. Jarrett Maupin came away from the experience with a newfound understanding of the pressure on police officers, not to mention a new message for black youth who come in contact with law enforcement officers.
“I walked away with a few things,” Quanell said “Many of these officers do not have adequate training and they should not be patrolling by themselves. Having backup would stop them from being skittish and firing their weapon.
“Also, we have to teach our community that, even if you disagree with the officer, do not try to litigate with them on the spot," he added. "Live to see another day. Don’t let our pride get in the way. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up.”
Quanell, who has been critical of police in Texas, as well as in Ferguson, Mo., where the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer last August touched off rioting around the nation, took the test with the police department in the Houston suburb of Missouri City. In four scenarios, he had to instantly decide whether to use a [paintball] gun, a Taser or hold his fire.
In another scenario, Quannel fired at a man during a routine traffic stop in which the suspect moved toward him, ignored an order to halt and reached behind his back
“I actually fired six times,” Quanell recalled. “I always questioned why officers fired so many shots in these situations. After going through the training, I think it’s very hard for an officer to know how many shots they fired when they are in the moment.”
Quannel said he submitted to the test because he “felt it was the right thing to do.”
The same sense of obligation prompted Maupin to go through a series of real-world scenarios in January with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, as reported on by Fox 10 Phoenix. Maupin led protests in Phoenix after an incident there in which officers shot an unarmed man who allegedly fought with them.
Maupin was also surprised by what he learned during the exercise.
“It was tense,” Maupin told FoxNews.com. “They had eliminated backup as an option. I tried to navigate it as best I could.”
In one scenario, Maupin responded to a call of two men fighting.
“What’s going on today, gentlemen?" Maupin said to the suspects in the live-action scenario. "What are you doing?"
Despite his respectful greeting, one of the suspects rushed him, prompting the preacher to draw his weapon and open fire.
“I had no intention of shooting them,” Maupin said later. “I can see how these situations occur. There is a level of fear that exists and the people who are often afraid are often the ones who are armed.”
Maupin said stressful situations still don't justify excessive force by police. But obeying cops is "a matter of survival," he said.
“I walked away with a renewed sense of compliance in any situation,” he said. “There’s no shame in it.
“I encourage all civil right leaders to take this training,” he added. “I know there’s truth to the other side."
Law enforcement officials credited both men for taking the simulations and putting themselves in the shoes of police officers.
“I think it’s great,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said to FoxNews.com. “The leaders of many of these groups, people in general, those that are high profile, are always criticizing the police. Maupin proves the point when he went through the training that you would get a good idea of what officers go through.”
Arpaio said he has extended a standing invitation to Rev. Al Sharpton to come to Maricopa County to complete the exercises.
“I’ve only heard from his people, who said, ‘We’ll look into it,’” he said.
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych