By Richard Ray:
A tragedy has occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 40 year old Australian native, Justine Damond was shot and killed by a single shot to the abdomen after calling police to report a possible assault in the alley behind her house. Her legal name was Justine Ruszyck, but she had already been using the surname of her fiancé Don Damond as they were scheduled to be married in August. She used the name Justine Damond in her website, where she was a yoga instructor, personal health and life coach and a “mediation teacher, embracing and teaching the neuroscience-scientific benefits of meditation.”
Little actual facts still exist as to her death, but what we know is that a single shot was fired by police officer Mohamed Noor from the passenger seat, as she stood outside of the driver side of the patrol car. There are no known witnesses other than Noor a 21 month member of the force and his partner, Matthew Harrity a rookie on the force less than 12 months. Neither officer had their provided body cameras turned on and their patrol car’s camera appeared to be off as well. Body cameras had been a seeming priority in Minnesota, after the death of Philando Castile, but for as yet unexplained reasons neither of the officers had them turned on.
As compiled by the Washington Post, in 2015 there were 991 police shootings of civilians that resulted in fatalities, 90 of those were committed against unarmed persons. In 2016 there were 963 fatalities related to civilians killed by police shootings throughout the United Sates. As of July 17 there have been 547 police shooting fatalities in 2017. Since 2015 no police officer has been convicted of murder or manslaughter in any case involving a civilian death.
People Of Color (POC) have long been calling for justice and reform in light of the high profile cases (some with video footage) that have involved unarmed men and women of color. However, calls for Black Lives Mattering have met just as much resistance from others, protective of the men and women in Blue. This lack of empathy for the victims of police brutality and injustice have been lost on a tone death populous that somehow thinks it is mutually exclusive to support law enforcement and call for justice and reform when officers make deadly mistakes that go outside of the bounds of reason and training in a profession that everyone, even its harshest critics, can acknowledge is inherently dangerous. Despite what the title reads, this lack of empathy for the unarmed victims of police shootings have come from every race and demographic, but by in large POC have had a more emotional connection and familiarity with fear of the police and their tactics.
I cannot state any more clearly that what happened to Justine Damond and her family is tragic. The seeming senselessness of being killed, unarmed and not in a commission of a crime, by those sworn to protect and serve is something that should never happen. Or at the very least happen far less often than it does. Unfortunately for POC the shooting that occurred to a middle class White woman has been far too much of a familiarity within inner city communities, with little to show for police accountability and change.
While the shooting of Justine Diamond has in no way been considered a race issue, there are of course a few ironies in her case that, though still evidentiary inconclusive, may likely result with a different outcome then what we see in nearly all other police shootings. I will bet that Mohamed Noor ends up as one of the few officers that is not only indicted for the shooting, but actually eventually convicted. He is Black, (Somali-American) and presumably a Muslim. While these factors are not being played up as part of the present storyline, they may play as un-coincidental reasons for his eventual indictment and conviction.
Through the tragedy that Justine’s family is experiencing in what seems to be a senseless killing, I am hoping that some good may come. The emotional emptiness that POC have experienced from the countless times we have seen video evidence of unarmed persons being killed by police with no justice, there has been a notable lack of empathy from many who just perhaps could not identify with the victims. Justine Damond fits into a demographic that many of those previously un-empathetic people may more easily identify, and while this may not be a race issue, they may now see the needs of what POC have been asking.
The police need better training. An officer on the force for only 21 months perhaps should not be teamed up with a rookie. An officer needs to be better trained on reactions to being “startled” in an inherently dangerous job with inevitable high pressure situations. The police need to be accountable of their actions. If body cameras and patrol car video is available, they cannot choose when and when not to engage such technology that is in place to protect their credibility as much as provide a check and balance for their interactions with the community at large.
So for those of you that somehow have an issue with Black Lives Mattering, when it comes to police shootings and social justice, does Justine Damond’s death highlight the need for more and better police training and accountability, or do we need to have another dozen unarmed White men and women struck down senselessly by officers to impact your consciousness? For all of our sakes, I hope this one was enough.