A police shooting with a difference

The 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile in the course of a traffic stop by suburban Twin Cities police officer Jeronimo Yanez convulsed the Twin Cities both before and after the officer involved was acquitted earlier this summer. Castile’s death was live streamed and narrated by his girlfriend on Facebook. It was a horrifying, heartbreaking scene. A Ramsey County jury nevertheless found that Officer Yanez reasonably feared for his life at the time of the shooting.

Castile was armed and black; Yanez is “of color.” The shooing was nevertheless viewed through the racial lens to which we have grown accustomed. The day following the shooting, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton condemned the actions by police, saying that while not all the facts were in, the force used in the traffic stop was excessive. “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” Dayton asked. “I don’t think it would have.”

On Saturday evening Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor shot Justine Damond in the alley behind her home in south Minneapolis. Noor has not been officially identified as the shooter, but the Star Tribune has confirmed his identity and reported it here and here. Noor’s attorney has not acknowledged Noor’s role in the events.

Damond is said by her fiancé to have called the police to investigate a possible sexual assault in progress outside their home. She emerged in her pajamas to speak to the arriving officers. No one has yet offered any possible explanation for Ms. Damond’s shooting. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating. It has issued a press release which simply states: “At one point, an officer fired their [sic] weapon, fatally striking a woman.”

Ms. Damond is originally from Sydney, Australia. She was engaged to be married to a Minneapolis man. The story is page-one news both in Minneapolis and in Sydney. It is devastating.

By contrast with his performance in the Castile case, Governor Dayton has maintained his silence. One can only speculate why. Perhaps the governor regrets his performance in that case. Perhaps there is something different about this case.

In this case there is no heartbreaking video. In this case, moreover, the officer involved is black and the shooting victim is white. Indeed, as of March 2015, Officer Noor is the first Somali officer on the Minneapolis police force to patrol the Fifth Precinct in the city’s southwest neighborhoods. (He is one of nine Somali officers in the department.) I take it there will be no rush to judgment in this case and that we will be spared the disruptive protests featured in the Castile case. We may have to be grateful for small mercies.

I reached out to a trusted law enforcement source for any insight he might be able to offer. He responds: “My first thought was that it was accidental, but rumor has it [Officer Noor is] denying that it was a negligent discharge.” He adds: “If there aren’t some sort of mitigating circumstances, and I’m struggling to imagine what they could be, this may be the most egregious police shooting in my lifetime if not longer…But not many facts are known at this point and it’s hard to pass judgement before knowing more than what’s being leaked to the media.”

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