Underneath my yellow skin

Hey, Police! Don’t Stand So Close to Me

I heard about another shooting in Minneapolis recently, and I was immediately filled with sorrow. Then, I heard about the circumstances, and a white-hot rage filled me. Not because another life was needlessly lost, though that is what saddened me, but because the shooter was a Somalian man, and the victim was a pretty white blond (Australian) lady. I knew what was going to happen, though I hoped against hope that I would be wrong.

I wasn’t.

I need to back up here for the three people who aren’t aware of Black Lives Matter. The movement started in response to the umpteenth killing of a black person by a white cop, and predictably, a wide swath of white America pushed back at the notion that our police system is racist and needs revamping. Not only is it racist (which is inevitable because racism is soaked in the foundation on which our country is built), it’s become increasingly antagonistic and militaristic in mentality. I’m not sure the picture of the cop walking the local beat was ever truly a reality, but it’s certainly not true now. Many cops don’t live in the neighborhoods in which they are policing, and even if they do, they don’t consider the people they’re arresting as part of their community.

Standard disclaimer: Being a cop is a really hard and stressful job. It’s made even more difficult by the fact that we are a gun-happy country, so cops don’t know what they’re facing when they go out on a call. That said, there are ways to de-escalate a situation, but cops are not being taught these techniques. Instead, they are relying more and more on authoritarian tactics, and they’re not allowing for human responses to being shouted at by the cops, even if you’re not guilty. In addition, because the police have so much responsibility and power, it’s incumbent upon them to be scrupulous about how they wield such power. Sadly, the way the laws are written, they can shoot at pretty much anyone they want and not suffer any consequences.

The facts of this case are sketchy. Justine Damond or Ruszczyk*, the victim, reportedly called 911 to report a possible sexual assault occurring. When the cops came, she approached the car and was shot by Mohamed Noor, the first Somalian to be a Minneapolis police officer. The minute I saw the photo of Damond and heard the nationality of the police officer who killed her, I knew how this was going to go, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Noor’s partner, Michael Harrity claims he heard a loud noise, and then Noor shot and killed Damond. That’s the story Harrity is telling, and Noor is not talking at all. Smart on his part, but not helping the public perception of the case.

Here’s where the rage comes in. I knew the minute I heard the cop was black (in the eyes of Americans) and the victim was a pretty white woman, and Australian to boot, I knew that the reaction to this case would be much different than the reaction to Philando Castile’s case. He’s a black man who was shot and killed by Jeronimo Yanez (a cop) a few miles from my home. Castile’s girlfriend caught the whole thing on video and streamed it to Facebook, and yet, Yanez was still found not guilty last month, even though it was clear that Castile was complying with Yanez’s demands.

With that case, all the Blue Lives Matter assholes were supporting the cops and shitting on BLM protesters. This time? Silence. In contrast, people who didn’t have much thought about the Castile shooting are all up in arms about the Damond shooting and demanding police reform. I listened to MPR’s reporting on Mayor Hodges’ press conference this last Saturday in which she talked about the police chief ‘resigning’ over this shooting, and a pure rage shot through me. One week after the shooting of a white woman, and the police chief is forced to resign, and yet, noting of the sort happened after Castile was shot. Granted, it’s different counties, so it wouldn’t be this police chief fired, but still. The stark contrast pissed me the fuck off.

If you can’t understand why this is rage-inducing, well, you’re probably not a PoC, specifically not a brown or black person. It’s like the missing white woman syndrome run amok. The message is very clear–the victim doesn’t matter until it’s a white woman, especially an attractive one. Add to that the fact that the officer who shot her is Somalian, and a clearer study on race relations could not be presented.

Let me be very clear: Our police system is decidedly broken and needs to be changed. That’s clear. Cops are too eager to shoot, and they need to be taught it’s the last option, not the first. De-escalation techniques are not taught to many police, and even to those that learn it, it’s a minuscule portion of their training. Pair that with the increased militarization of our police, plus all the gun-toting citizens of our country, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Coincidentally, I just heard a program on the shooting on MPR on my way to taiji this afternoon. I will add the caveat that I only heard twenty minutes of it, but I was disappointed that race wasn’t mentioned in the time I was listening. The closest is when the host, Kerri Miller, asked something like, “Have you thought about what this means to us as a community?” It also made me realize, however, that the program is aimed at white people, as is so much of liberal journalism. Why? Because minorities immediately think about questions like this when incidents such as this shooting happens. It’s part of the frustration for PoC–our reality is nothing but a hypothetical question for white people until things like this happen, and still, it’s probably not internalized in the same way.

The program was still interesting as Miller had Susan Gaertner on. Gaertner is a former Ramsey County attorney, and her perspective was fascinating. She was talking about the law as it pertains to police and justifiable force. The police officer only has to fear for his or her (but mostly his) life in order for force to be justifiable. That’s my layperson interpretation, and I might have missed the nuances. Gaertner emphasized that it’s a Constitutional law, and she asked if we would really want to change it. In other words, do we want police fearing for their own lives and feeling as if they can’t shoot in a dangerous situation? Her question was can police adequately protect the public if the law isn’t in place?

I could see her point. Police officers have a very dangerous job where they have to make life and death decisions in an instant. They put their lives on the line every time they go out. However,I would argue that because of that stress and the high stakes of their job, it’s even more imperative that they be held to a stringent standard of conduct.

It’s easier said than done, of course, but there is evidence from the link above about training that the longer a cop holds off from ¬†shooting, the less likely a shooting is to occur. In addition, female cops are much less likely to shoot than are their male colleagues, probably in part because they’re less able to rely on their physical stature to intimidate suspects, so they have to rely on other tactics–including de-escalation techniques.

Back to my frustrations about this case–the reaction to this case has been predictably out-sized in comparison to the reaction to Philando Castile’s death. There is more outrage and more white people questioning if the police are out of control. I knew it would happen when I heard about the circumstances, but it doesn’t make it any less bitter. I read an article portraying the victim in this case as if she were a black man (meaning making her look as bad as possible), and while I understood the intent,I wasn’t pleased. My goal isn’t to drag everyone down to the lowest level, but to make sure no one is treated the way we treat black and brown suspects in this country.

I think it’s tragic that Damond is dead. It’s a senseless loss of life. I don’t think it’s any more tragic than Castile being dead, however, and I feel as if it’s being treated as if it is. It’s infuriating that this might be what finally changes the police system in Minnesota when other shootings have been glossed over or ignored. I will be happy if the change comes, of course, but why does it always have to be the pretty white woman, especially a blond one, who stirs the public sympathy?

I want the day to come when the public in general is just as upset about a black man or woman being cut down by the police as they are about a white woman.** I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, however, and that makes me ineffably sad.





*She called herself Justine Damond, taking the name of her fiance, even though they weren’t married. Reporters have varied in which name they use.

**I think the fact that she’s Australian is also part of the outcry, at least the haste with which the officials have acted. The last thing they want is an international incident.


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