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.
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].