recent shooting death of Justine
police officer Mohamed Noor in Minneapolis is a reminder of the
problem of police violence and lethal force in that city and around
the nation. This case comes only a month after a former police
officer in a nearby suburb, Jeronimo Yanez, was found not guilty in
the July 2016 fatal shooting of Philando Castile.
most recent case, however, does not adhere to the typical pattern, in
which the victim is black and the offending police officer is not.
Ruszczyk , who reportedly
had called 911 to alert police to a sexual assault happening hear her
home, was white, and Noor is black, the first Somali-American officer
on the Minneapolis police force.
Ruszczyk came outside in her pajamas and walked into an alley, Noor
shot her to death through the door of his police car. Mystifyingly,
both officers' body
cameras were turned off.
Noor and fellow officer Matthew Harrity, who also responded to the
scene, were placed on administrative leave. Harrity has talked to
state investigators, who
he told them he was startled by a loud sound near his squad car
before Noor (who has not spoken to investigators) fired.
incident's deviation from a pattern we have come to expect does not
make it any less tragic, senseless or shocking. But it provides an
opportunity for the public to view police abuse in a different light
and to bring more visibility to the issue.
killing of Ruszczyk, an immigrant from Australia, bears noteworthy
similarities to the death not only of Castile but also that of Sean
who died in a hail of 50 NYPD bullets from uniformed and plainclothes
officers just hours before his wedding. Ruszczyk was to be married
both the Castile and Bell cases, police faced criticism for being too
quick to fire their weapons and kill innocent civilians. Castile did
all of the right things after being stopped: He produced his license
and registration, and informed the officer he
had a gun and was licensed to carry it.
Officer Yanez, who claimed he feared for his life and saw Castile
reaching for the gun, was still acquitted of manslaughter and reached
that ended his career with the town of St. Anthony. The Castile
family settled with the Minneapolis suburb for $3
cops ultimately were forced out
of the department after Bell's death, none of the officers involved
were convicted on criminal charges.
Three NYPD detectives were acquitted
by a judge in a bench trial in 2008, and the city of New York settled
with Bell's fiancée and friends for $7.15
aftermath of the deaths of Castile and Bell represent common outcomes
of police fatality incidents involving unarmed civilians. Police
typically are not indicted and rarely are convicted, which often
means the victims' families receive at most a lump sum settlement
from the city rather than justice.
observers, lacking in empathy, have blamed black victims for their
own deaths by claiming they did not comply with police instructions,
mouthed off at officers, or were thugs or gang members.
the aftermath of Ruszczyk's death, however, it is clear that America
is not as accustomed to the killing of an innocent white woman by
police, much less by a black officer. That the officers involved in
the killing of Justine Ruszczyk have been named, and the state
investigation announced, suggests that this case -- unlike so many
other homicides over the years of black people involving police -- is
being taken seriously.
that regard, Ruszczyk's death may allow the crisis of police
excessive force to become even more visible.
many segments of society cannot (or refuse to) appreciate suffering
until and unless it affects them or their own community. It is for
this reason that black and brown people often believe their lives are
white lives are at stake, society takes notice. During the civil
rights movement, for example, the murders of white civil rights
workers such as Viola Liuzzo in
Alabama and Andrew
Goodman and Michael Schwerner
in Mississippi illuminated the problems of racist violence in the
South in ways that felt new to many white people, even after African
Americans had experienced a century of terrorism and lynching during
Reconstruction and Jim Crow.
recently, whites impacted by the opioid epidemic have been regarded
as victims of a public health crisis who need treatment, and the
crisis is a public health crisis, while blacks and Latinos caught up
in the war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s were treated as criminals
and subjected to mass incarceration.
too soon to know whether Ruszczyk's death will bring the problem of
police violence home to white Americans in ways that previous
shootings haven't. But it is neither inconsistent nor insensitive to
say that her death was cold-blooded, and many in the black community
are not surprised by it. In a country that has failed to rein in law
enforcement practices and the use of deadly force, this recent
killing in Minneapolis carries with it an air of inevitability.
black community, their allies, and advocates for police reform have
sounded the alarm for years, often to be met with attacks and
accusations of stoking racial divisions. But those attacks ignore the
reality that while Black Lives Matter has brought attention to the
killing of black people, and the violence and discrimination facing
people of color in the justice system, leaders and members of the
movement have also voiced support for Dylan
19, a white teen killed by Fresno police in June of last year.
of color are the disproportionate victims of bad policing, but that
does not mean they are the only ones. When police departments
function well and work in concert with the community, and law
enforcement is transparent and accountable to the public, society as
a whole will benefit, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Ruszczyk should not have died. Perhaps if society had cared enough to
repair a broken system that has claimed so many lives, such as
Philando Castile's and Sean Bell's, she might still be alive today.
commentary was originally published by CNN