At times, addressing the truth is inconvenient


While we are all standing around demanding explanations for the inexplicable, I can’t help but notice the difference in reactions to the shooting deaths by police of a black man by a Hispanic police officer and of a white woman by a Somali-American police officer.

Tom West, West Words

A year ago, this month, St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile at a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Castile was armed, told Yanez so, and then seconds later was shot seven times because, depending on what you want to believe since there is no significant video evidence, Castile was reaching either for his gun or for his wallet.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton determined the next day, after viewing only the aftermath video provided by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, that the shooting was caused by racism. This was followed by mass protests, including the shutting down of I-94 in St. Paul and the stoning of cops (of which 21 were injured).

We later learned that Castile was pulled over because he looked a little like a suspect in an armed robbery that had occurred just a few days before. That means he was black and had long hair.

As almost all police officers who kill someone are, Yanez was put through a year of hell, until he was recently acquitted of murder charges. The best that can be said of the case is that the jury had “reasonable doubt” about what Castile’s hands were doing out of sight of the squad car camera. After the verdict, Dayton said he still believes that Castile would be alive today if he weren’t black.

Then last weekend, Justine Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond because she was planning to marry Don Damond in August, a white woman from Australia, was shot and killed by Mohamed Noor, a Minneapolis police officer of Somali-American descent. Ruszczyk had called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home. When police arrived, the unarmed Ruszczyk, wearing her pajamas, went into the alley and began talking to Noor, who was in the front passenger seat, and his partner Matthew Harrity, who was driving. Contrary to department policy, neither Noor nor Harrity had his body cam turned on, nor was the squad car’s camera turned on.

Ruszczyk was then shot through the squad car window by Noor. The bullet hit her in the abdomen, and police and paramedics were not able to save her. As with Castile, those who knew Ruszczyk have wavered between grief and anger.

Other than that, about all we know is that Noor is exercising his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and Harrity’s attorney said the police were afraid they were being ambushed.

The big difference, however, is that Dayton waited until Wednesday to comment on the event, and protesters closing freeways and throwing rocks at cops are nowhere to be found. A more restrained governor did not assign motive to the Ruszczyk shooting, asked the BCA to make its investigation a top priority and called for restraint. The Some Lives Matter as Long as They Fit Our Agenda crowd does not care. Or maybe they take exception to whites. Or to women. Or to Australians.

Or maybe they just like to play the race card whenever it suits their purposes. Ruszczyk’s killing just doesn’t fit their narrative.

So, while we are waiting for answers, here are a few questions that we would like answered:

Was a victim of sexual assault ever found in the alley?

How much effort has gone into finding the person who yelled for help in the alley?

Why were the cameras turned off?

What did Ruszczyk say to the officers?

Why did the governor assume Castile’s death was racially motivated and Ruszczyk’s wasn’t?

The intent here is not to justify the shooting of either Castile or Ruszczyk. Nor is it to disparage the work of law enforcement. It is easy to assign blame in these incidents, and one needs to dig deep into the circumstances to have even an inkling of the truth.

But if we are to make broad statements, then we also need to look at the bigger picture.

The argument that the police were afraid of ambush can be understood in the wake of the killing of a New York city officer in an ambush a few weeks ago. Because New York is the media capital of the world, it received more attention than most police deaths. However, the FBI reports that the number of officers killed in an ambush averaged 12.5 officers annually from 2004 to 2011 nationwide, but that number dropped to 5.5 per year for the years from 2012 through 2015.

But at this point, in Minnesota and specifically in the Twin Cities, we need to look at these two shootings closely. The circumstances of each (and we don’t know much about Ruszczyk’s shooting) seem highly unusual. It would behoove the politicians to take a look not only at police training, but at the overall environment which law enforcement faces each day before jumping to any conclusions.


Tom West can be reached by email at [email protected].

  • newpolitiq7

    “The Some Lives Matter as Long as They Fit Our Agenda crowd does not care. Or maybe they take exception to whites. Or to women. Or to Australians,” says West. But West opines mid-story on this ongoing case, resulting in his early condemnation being wrong. In fact, a racially-diverse crowd of 200 did show up to protest in Loring Park last night (7/21), and in the streets on their way to the Mayor’s news conference at City Hall (where they loudly and roundly condemned both Chief Harteau and Mayor Hodges).

    A white Australian woman (who resided in an upscale Lake Harriet neighborhood of South Mpls) is shot and killed by a relatively inexperienced (inadequately trained?) Somali police officer. A white female Mayor fires the American Indian, gay female Police Chief in response. Some would say that this is an illustration of the fact that the death of white people by police gets more immediate and severe remedies (i.e.: “You’re fired”) than the death of black civilians.

    Regarding Dayton’s reaction to the Castile tragedy, this article provides some useful background:

    Tevlin also nails it here:

    I do agree with West’s final, summary sentence: “It would behoove the politicians to take a look not only at police training, but at the overall environment which law enforcement faces each day before jumping to any conclusions.”

  • John Snell

    I certainly don’t know if race was an issue in the Castillo shooting or more unlikely in the 51st and Washburn neighborhood. I lived in Mpls St. Paul most of my life and there is plenty of racism around just as up here in small town America. I don’t pretend to know what’s going through a cops head when this occurs but I will say there is no way in hell I’d be a cop today. Blacks are more likely to get shot and that’s just a statistical fact. But what’s going through a cops head is they are getting g shot sitting in their squad cars and it doesn’t discriminate where. Now, I’m not against the 2nd Amendment but the embellishment of the Amendment has been carried to aburdity. Stand your ground laws, any body can get a weapon without a backround check. In the 70s in the Twin Cities you couldn’t get a permit to carry unless you were in security or maybe an attorney. This fraud has been perpetrated by the NRA. What the hell are all these people afraid of? Washburn is a nice neighborhood, but I think it was rookie cops overreacting to a situation.

  • J Scott

    So, its apparent that the Morrison County Record plans to let Tom West use his weekly column to fan the flames of racism and the Republican agenda while disparaging leadership by Democrats. This column reads like another whining Republican, drunk on privilege, crying “reverse discrimination”!

    The OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE is that there was video footage of the Castile murder and no footage or account of the Damond murder. The public and the governor also knew from public records that Castile was repeatedly harassed by police who pulled him over so many times that it could only be called absurd.

    In short, irrefutable data was available immediately following the Castile shooting.

    Fanning the flames of racism, which is already an epidemic, benefits no one. Dayton is wise enough to know that. Tom West isn’t.

    On a side note, I would call one officer forgetting to turn on his body cam and even that of the squad car a possible oversight. But both officers, both “forgetting” body cams and squad cam all at the same time – I call that a coordinated effort. So where were they when the ruckus was occurring…or were they the cause of the ruckus? Did Damond witness something that she was murdered for?