There have been two disturbing police shootings of black men in recent days, both incidents partially recorded on cell phones.
In Falcon Heights, Minnesota, an officer fatally shot 32-year-old Philando Castile as he sat in a car with a woman and a child. A day earlier, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed during a confrontation with two police officers outside a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, convenience store where he was CDs. Neither of these cases have been investigated yet; the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave. In both cases, however, the initial impressions of the incidents were those of relatives of the deceased: Castile’s wife and Sterling’s mother. Guess what they had to say about their deceased loved ones and the police who shot them
This is, as a judge would say in a trial, extremely prejudicial. The emotional and angry reactions of the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown seized and controlled the “narratives” in those two cases before the facts were confirmed and the fatal encounters clarified. Today, CNN presented Mrs. Castile, who declared that placing the officer involved in her husband’s death on administrative leave with pay was proof of the low value placed on black lives. She, of course, knows what happened, and that her husband couldn’t possibly have been responsible in any way for his demise. The shooter should be punished now, by loss of his income, before any investigation has been undertaken or completed. He’s guilty—of racism, of murder.
Hers is an understandable but biased, emotional and unfair reaction. For that to be the first exposure many Americans have to the case is destructive to the legal process, the justice system, and law enforcement, as well as racial comity. Later this morning, we heard Castile’s child screaming: “Where’s my daddy? I want my daddy!” This is tragedy porn. Meanwhile, the police are demonized and condemned before the facts and sequence of event have been established.
Victim’s families should not be asked to give their opinions on such events when the responses add nothing to the public’s understanding of what happened and only biases them in favor of the idealized portrait of the victim. Yesterday, I heard Alton Sterling’s mother describe him as a gentle giant, and perhaps he was. Michael Brown, however, was also supposedly a gentle giant. The fact is that two police departments don’t know what happened, except that two officers shot and killed two black men. Maybe the cops were racists who executed the men. Maybe they were badly trained police who have a dangerous and biased fear of blacks. Maybe the shootings, or one of them, were justified. The investigators don’t know, I don’t know, you don’t know. The relatives of the dead men, however , are sure that they know: Racist cops once again killed black men. They are the last people who the media should be presenting to the public, and instead they are the first.
I googled “White suspect shot,” just for the heck of it. Google immediately directed me to the stories of the Castile and Sterling, though to be fair, it didn’t ask “Are you sure you don’t mean “black men shot”? Down the list of hits, however, was this story:
“Police in Fresno, California, found themselves in a face-off with a White mob protesting a shooting of a suspect. On June 25, police responded to reports of a White male carrying a rifle on a residential street. Police confronted Dylan Noble, 19, at a gas station after a car chase for speeding down the street. According to police, Noble got out of his pickup truck, started to walk away and refused to show his hands. Fresno Deputy Chief Pat Farmer told reporters Saturday that “The subject made a statement that he hated his life and made affirmative movement to the small of his back at which time he was shot several times by officers at the scene.”The officers indicated they feared that Noble was reaching behind his back for a weapon and they opened fire. Noble was hit several times and later died during surgery at a local hospital. The two officers involved in the shooting were wearing body cameras. No weapon was found on Noble or in the vehicle.”
While the shooting deaths of the two black men received national coverage, only a few news sources have covered Noble’s death, which is at least as suspicious as those were. Nor has any national source interviewed his mother. Why is that, do you think?
No wonder Jesse Williams thinks no unarmed white men are shot by police.