Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
I have heard all the arguments about why the slaying of Justine Damond is not the same as the slaying of Michael Brown and police slayings of countless other unarmed blacks. They all come down to race. She is a middle-class white female from Australia. She worked in the trendy profession of meditation and yoga. Her slaying drew international attention. Minneapolis City officials and Minnesota state officials instantly and very publicly criticized the shooting. A police chief was speedily edged out of her job. The press painted a glowing, heart wrenching story about her and her family. The cop who killed her, Mohamed Noor, was quickly identified and branded in some headlines, “killer cop.” There are demands that he be charged.
The stark contrast with the way police, officials, and the press treated the Damond killing versus the virtual demonization of Brown and the other black victims of police violence stirred outrage and screams of racial double-standard. Some critics went further and angrily professed no sympathy for Damond.
This is wrong-headed and reprehensible. The brutal reality is that Damond was an unarmed civilian who committed no crime and was shot without any provocation or justification. Her slaying was much more than just a human tragedy. It pointed to something that has flown way under the public radar when it comes to police killings of unarmed persons. That is that the police kill a lot of whites too. In some cases, they were white women.
Their deaths get little to no media attention and generally little public outcry. The circumstances in which many die are just as dubious and outrageous as the killings of many of the blacks. In almost all cases, no charges are brought against the officers.
Damond was just the latest in the long line of white victims of police overuse of deadly force. The officers that kill are wrapped tightly in the same legal shield of immunity from prosecution as if their victims were black. The Damond slaying is a near textbook example of this. Strip away the uproar, official condemnation, and media kid glove treatment of her, the cop that gunned down Damond is being handled no differently than if Damond had been black. He was put on administrative leave with pay. That’s standard. Other than mention of a complaint filed against him his professional conduct and personal life was not put under intense scrutiny. Though his body cam and the dash cam in his police car were turned off in violation of department procedure, there was no indication what, if any discipline, he’d receive for that. Prosecutors also gave no indication that they were considering any criminal charges against him. There was no information given on how the investigation would be conducted and a timetable for its completion. This may change if any damaging facts about the shooting surface that show conclusively there was criminal negligence by the officer. But for the time being he is still very much a police officer.
To say that Damond’s death is different than Brown’s badly begs another question. By minimizing or even dismissing the killing of Damond because she’s white perversely stands the killing of Brown and other blacks on their head. It makes their killings even more important than Damond’s simply by virtue of them being black; and because their deaths did not get the same public sympathy and official reaction as hers This is tantamount to creating a victim hierarchy on those slain by police.
This is a slippery and dangerous slope to go down. This feeds the notion that blacks only care when the victims are other blacks and will only protest their deaths. This ignores the fact that thousands of whites marched, rallied, protested, and disrupted meetings when Brown and other blacks were slain by police. They were outraged at the seemingly wanton killings. They regarded them as innocent victims of police violence, and charged that the officers who killed were getting away with the violence with no penalty for their acts. It was only a short step then from the killing of unarmed blacks without punishment to the killing of anyone, no matter their race or gender.
The ultimate proof is Damond. When Noor fired at Damond he did not know what her gender or race was. She was just a suspect. H used a variation of the get out of prosecution card that police who overuse deadly force routinely use. That’s that he feared for his safety. It’s a defense that works. It matters little whether the victim is male or female, black or white.
Damond being white, female, and garnering sympathy and the cop that killed her being black is irrelevant. Her killing by any measure was senseless. And, as with any other innocent victim of police violence, her death must be mourned.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.