American blacks have had to deal with police criminality for a long, long time. Bull Connor in Birmingham made the front page with black and white stills when he ordered his men to assault peaceful demonstrators with dogs and fire hoses. Four policemen beat Rodney King unconscious with their batons, then kicked him as he lay on the pavement. The attack in Los Angeles was one of the first to be filmed and distributed widely. Since Michael Brown’s murder in St. Louis, the number of publicized murders and attacks have been too numerous to count. They became so commonplace, we don’t even hear about them anymore.
Until police start to invade white neighborhoods. Friday night, July 14, police took over the Reeves’ property in Hingham, MA, ostensibly to prevent a suicide. In fact their behavior had nothing to do with suicide prevention. Instead, they used a SWAT team to mount a Ruby Ridge style siege, designed to make criminals come out with their hands up. The target and victim of their behavior, Austin Reeves, shot himself. After police found his body, they cleared out, and told Austin’s parents they could return to their home. We’ll pay for the broken windows and damage to your lawn, but you’ll have to cover the funeral expenses.
On Saturday night, just twenty-four hours later, police killed an Australian woman named Justine Ruszczyk in Minneapolis. She called 911 to report a possible assault outside her home. When police arrived, she approached their vehicle in her pajamas to let them know why she called. Without getting out of the car, the officer next to the driver pulled out his handgun and shot her through the driver’s side window. Minneapolis police have given no explanation, nor have they released names of the officers involved.
We realize now how completely our relationship with police has flipped. Police used to put themselves in danger to protect us. Now they put us in danger to protect themselves. Policeman Jeronimo Yanez murdered Philando Castile in St. Paul, in a college neighborhood just a few miles from Justine’s home near Lake Harriet, because Yanez panicked. He thought Castile was about to shoot him, so he fired seven bullets into Castile’s body as he sat at the wheel. Castile had been completely obedient, prudent, and deferential toward the Yanez before the officer opened fire.
Police officers’ justification and defense for shooting people usually opens with the words, “I thought…” You thought the driver was about to do something dangerous, so you shot him. You thought the young man who lost his girl friend was about to harm himself, so you bring a SWAT team to lay siege to his house. Something about the woman in her pajamas scared you, after she called you for protection, so you shot her through the driver’s side window.
Americans readily use the words ‘police state’ to describe countries that have strongmen in charge, militarized police forces that do not respect human rights, and a practice of placing state security before everything else. Does that sound familiar to you? We are slow to recognize the advent of a police state in our own cities and neighborhoods. While the NSA set up electronic surveillance to track every citizen, police tooled up and trained up to show force and assault liberty on the ground, where we live. No interaction with police is free from anxiety now. Police officers across the country have demonstrated what they will do to protect themselves: shoot first.
The article below names the police officer who shot Justine Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond: Mohamed Noor:
Medical examiner: Justine Damond died from gunshot wound to abdomen: Justine Damond, 40, who called 911 to report a possible assault behind her south Minneapolis home Saturday night, was fatally shot by a police officer. No body cams were running at the time.
For lack of any other evidence, we can focus on one sentence in the middle of the article:
“A source said Damond’s cellphone was found near her body.”
For those ready to reach for fast answers, you’ll find one here: Noor thought Damond’s cell phone was a gun. Or he thought it might be a gun. If your training tells you to fire first and think later, you don’t wait to find out if a cellphone, in a dark alley at night, is actually a gun.
I predicted at the beginning of the week that by now, we would still have no information from the Minneapolis police department about what happened when Noor shot Damond. These investigations are too predictable. On Thursday, police chief Janee Harteau gave a press conference. She said, “Justine didn’t have to die.” That’s helpful. You can’t criticize Harteau for calling a press conference, but if you don’t have any information about what happened, and you say pseudo-soothing things like she “didn’t have to die,” what’s the point?
The criminal investigation, which will take weeks if not months to complete, will not reveal anything exculpatory. Three seconds after Noor pulled the trigger of his service weapon, he knew he had made a mistake. Twenty minutes later, after extreme pain, Justine Damond died on the ground next to his cruiser.