Slightly after midnight on Monday, police in Bakersfield, Calif., received a call concerning a man thought to be brandishing a weapon in a residential neighborhood.
Shortly after police arrived, 73-year-old Francisco Serna — who family members said was suffering from the early stages of dementia — walked out of his home and into his driveway. When Serna, who was unarmed, did not comply with officers’ orders to remove his hands from his jacket pocket, one officer fired seven shots at him, killing him.
During a canvass of the premises that lasted at least until the following afternoon, police did not find a firearm on or near Serna. Instead, they found a crucifix.
Questions and Observations:
1. The shooting occurred two days ago, on December 12. There have been no organized protests, or community groups, family lawyers or anyone else suggesting that the shooting was murder, or an example of police animus toward the community. Why not?
2. The circumstances of the shooting were notably similar to the police involved shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, except that in the case of Scott, the officer believed the victim had a gun, and he did have a gun. Nonetheless, that shooting triggered two days of rioting. Why?
3. In the Scott shooting, both officer and victim were black. In the recent shooting in Bakersfield, officer and victim were white. Why did one shooting become a racial incident and the other not, when the conduct of the police officers were essentially identical, and the provocation for the shootings were similar as well?
4. One difference in the two episodes is that in Charlotte, a false narrative was launched by a family member to make the shooting appear to be a case of excessive force with a police cover-up. Is it just felicitous that this did not occur in Bakersfield, or was the Charlotte episode different in some way that caused events to resemble the aftermath in the Ferguson and Freddie Gray police-involved deaths?
5. If Francisco Serna had been black and all other facts the same, is there any reason to believe that the aftermath, including recriminations, accusations and attacks on police, the justice system and the nation’s culture, would have been any different than they have been every time an unarmed black man, or a black man who was reported as being unarmed, has been shot by police? If there is not, what does that tell us?
6. If the only substantive difference between the two episodes is the color of the victim, and if it must be acknowledged that such tragic episodes are not necessarily caused by circumstances dependent on race, then why does one shooting become a racial controversy and the other does not?
7. How can the Bakersfield episode be reported as a police tragedy that does not suggest that police are aggressively ready to shoot white citizens, while the Charlotte episode is reported as one in a series of police involved shootings showing that “black lives don’t matter?”
8. Why does the public and the news media accept the construct that the race of the victim in such a shooting proves institutional racism when the individual shot is black, regardless of the race of the police shooter, but the fact that the same kinds of incidents happen to black victims is ignored as evidence contrary to this assumption?
9. The shooting of Francisco Serna was also caused in part by a mistaken citizen report that he was “brandishing a pistol.” This aspect of the case is similar to the facts in the tragic shootings of African American Tamir Rice, where police were told that a “man was aiming a gun” at passersby, when the original 911 caller had suggested that it was a child with a toy, and the 2014 shooting of African American John Crawford in a Walmart, as he was carrying an unpackaged toy rifle. In that case as well, police were mistakenly told that he was a “subject with a gun.” What makes the shootings of Rice and Crawford proof that police target blacks, while the Sena shooting is accepted as a tragic mistake, perhaps to be remedied by training?
10. Is anyone going to ask Black Lives Matter representatives, Colin Kaepernick, or Elie Mystal how they reconcile the interpretations of these incidents? Is not the obvious answer that the accusations of racism and murder are sparked by confirmation bias that nobody in the race grievance community has the integrity, courage or honesty to admit?
11. Can anti-police activists in the black community not see the evident inconsistency? If they can’t, why not? If they can, then why don’t they explain, clearly and persuasively, why a white police officer shooting an unarmed white man with dementia shouldn’t suggest that a black cop shooting an armed emotionally disturbed black man who is off his medications may not be part of a racist conspiracy by the American justice system to kill blacks after all?
12. Why isn’t the single lesson of both cases, as with the death of Mike Brown, that when a police officer tells you to stop approaching and show your hands, all citizens, black or white, should stop approaching and show their hands?
13. Thus far, I have read nor heard any commentators, pundits, politicians or activists considering, discussing or confronting any of the above. Why is that?
14. Finally, is it unreasonable and insensitive to simultaneously agree that police relations with black communities and vice-versa are a serious problem requiring policy reforms, and also to accept that the routine presumption of racist motivations in police-involved shootings is unethical, unfair and unjust?