On Saturday night 40-year old Justine Damond called 911 to report a possible assault. When Minneapolis police showed up and met Justine in the alley it ended with her being shot and killed by Mohamed Noor a Black, Somali-American police officer. The aftermath of the tragedy has many struggling to make sense of the situation. There are the obvious questions: Why was Damond shot? How could this happen?
Then there is the disbelief and hypocrisy that comes with watching the media and politicians sympathize and humanize Damond when they took every opportunity to criminalize and demonize Black victims of police violence. Questions stem from this place as well: Will white people care now? Will Noor be held accountable? Will it only be because he is Black? Where are the All Lives Matter folks now?
If we are serious about ending police violence we must engage these questions with a deep sincerity.
Deserving and Undeserving Victims
This morning the Mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, was on CNN proclaiming her heartbreak over the shooting of Damond. Neither she, nor any other elected official, was on CNN proclaiming their heartbreak over the death of Jamar Clark. In fact, Mayor Hodges worked diligently to minimize and erase the heartbreak of the community who had occupied the 4th Precinct in hopes to get answers to the very same questions Justine Damond’s family is asking today. I saw Mayor Hodges’ heartbreak then first hand, I was one of 13 people who went to her house on a night the police were especially brutal to the community at the 4th precinct. We were asking her to call for the police to stop shooting rubber bullets and tear gassing the community. She refused to speak with us, and then called the police’s actions “measured.” A far cry from the sympathy she and others are showing this morning.
This morning there are no reports about Damond’s past. There are no speculative rumors of her drug use. There is no conjecture that she must have reached for an officers gun. There are sympathetic headlines of a community “Desperate for answers” and quotes from neighbors proclaiming “It doesn’t seem like she’d be the kind of person to get shot in an alley.” It begs the question, who, exactly, is the type of person to be shot by the police in an alley? For too many of us white folks the answer is black men.
The double standard is obvious, we (white folks) all see it, and we need to be honest about it. Nothing illustrates this better than Angela Johnson, who was at the memorial for Damond, explaining why she was there: “It’s because it’s close to home… And it’s way more real when I could be Justine.” Perhaps this reversal of roles is what we needed, collectively, to understand what people of color have been screaming for centuries. If that’s the case, so be it. Join the struggle and be a sponge. Use this as a catalyst and learn. Go back and read the articles and news stories about Fong Lee, Terrance Franklin, Jamar Clark, and Philando Castile. Read them with new eyes and reconnect with that piece of humanity. We have to take this chance to understand how whiteness works, and to internalize the difference between it and white skin. But it won’t be easy.
Many are waiting to see how the system will react to this shooting, especially in the wake of the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez –the former officer who shot and killed Philando Castille. Notably MPD and the union have been silent. Will Bob Kroll and the union, who have vigorously defended killer cops, throw Noor under the bus? Or, will they defend Noor and pull the veil completely off exposing their true nature to the folks in Southwest Minneapolis, who they have counted on for their unwavering support? If they don’t defend Noor, if they don’t back up the story that he was afraid for his life (which is sure to come) we can be sure it is because he is Black and disposable. This must not result in the belief that the system works, to the contrary, it is the exception proving the rule. He will be held accountable because he is Black not because of a move towards accountability. If they do defend Noor we must be able to connect the dots that police are defending a system, and that system cares nothing for human life. We must be able to understand it as a manifestation of the cannibalistic nature of capitalist-white supremacist-patriarchy. We must stay vigilant.
When miners are digging in the mines they often would send canaries down to make sure it was safe. If the canaries died they knew there were toxic gases present and they shouldn’t continue. The canaries warned of impending doom should they continue. In that same way communities of color have been warning us of the impending doom on the horizon. Everything that whiteness has done to communities of color, to nature, and to those of us considered white will manifest in our material realities. From the drug epidemics to the foreclosure crisis and police violence what needs to become clear is that eventually the system will destroy us regardless of identity markers. We can hide behind or skin color, our class, our gender expression, our ability, or our god but eventually we will be destroyed by it if we don’t name it and fight back.