Former police officer Mohamed Noor was sentenced last week to spend 12 and a half years in a Minnesota prison for shooting Justine Ruszczyk, an unarmed woman he killed while on patrol in 2017. I don’t see how anyone could read the facts of the case and not conclude that Noor was guilty of negligent homicide. I don’t see how anyone could rationally complain that his sentence was excessive, either.
Ruszczyk, who was white—unfortunately this fact is relevant—and soon to be married, called 911 twice to report what she thought was a sexual assault going on in the alley behind her Minneapolis home. Officer Noor and his partner responded to investigate. Ruszczyk came out to the darkened alley to meet them, presumably to explain what she heard or saw, and was soon dead of a single shot, fired from the open patrol car window by Noor. At the trial, Noor said he feared for his life when he saw Ruszczyk approaching his cruiser and fired. “She could have had a weapon,” he said .
The reported crime, sexual assault, the officers were investigating did not involve a weapon. If Noor’srationale was enough to justify shooting Janet Ruszczyk, presumably an officer could justify shooting anyone, at any time.
Prosecutors argued that Noor acted unreasonably by firing at unknown figure out his window without shouting a warning, and that it amounted to third-degree murder. Well, of course it did. He was convicted by a jury in April . Twelve years for recklessly killing an unarmed woman who was trying to be a responsible citizen is not an unreasonable sentence, and is within the sentencing guidelines for the crime.
So, you may ask, what’s the problem? The problem is that Noor is a Somali immigrant, and his victim was white. Protesters from the area’s Somali community gathered in the courthouse lobby last week, claiming that a white officer would have been treated differently. “Wrong Complexion For Blue Protection,” one sign read. Noor’s religion—he is Muslim-obviously influenced his treatment by the court system, they said. The logic, to the extent that there is any, is that white officers in Minnesota and other parts of the country have escaped imprisonment for shooting unarmed blacks, so Noor should walk free after gunning down Janet Ruszczyk for no disernible reason whatsoever. In this blunt and illogical equating of dissimilar tragedies, all that matters is the end results and the colors of the participants.
Was Ms. Ruszczyk 300 pounds, resisting a lawful arrest, and charging an officer who was calling on her to stop? No. Then the Mike Brown shooting is irrelevant, Or, to use a shooting in Minnesota where an officer was recently acquitted, the case involving the death of Philandro Castile, did Ms. Ruszczyk tell an officer that she was carrying a gun, and then make a movement that the officer said caused him to believe he was about to be shot? No. If the comparison is to the horrible shooting of a 12-year-old black child in Cleveland, also out a patrol car window without warning, it is still unwarranted. There had been a report of a man with a gun, and the boy, large enough to be an adult, was holding a realistic-looking toy. I might have voted to convict the officers in that case, but it doesn’t matter: Noor’s actions had none of those mitigating factors. Nor were the cases in Pennsylvania and Tulsa, Cincinnati or South Carolina sufficiently like the Ruszczyk shooting to justify calling Noor’s sentence evidence of a double standard.
This is tribalism and opportunistic political power manipulation through bias and group identification. As such, it is un-American and corrosive to our society and rule of law. Islam also has a version of the Golden Rule: is it that difficult to think the Minneapolis episode through and think, “If someone in my community was shot the way this woman was, I would certainly want the police officer convicted and punished”?
That Noor, as the first Somali-American officer in his Minneapolis police precinct, had been a source of pride in the city’s large Somali refugee population—the mayor attended a welcome ceremony for him–shouldn’t matter at all. The protests are redolent of the Los Angeles African-American population rallying around O.J. Simpson.
We have to find a way to stop using presumed-prejudice as an excuse to attack the justice system. We have to be able to educate the public regarding how and why facts matter in trying cases, and criminal trialsare not just black vs. white power struggles.
We have to build a multi-cultural consensus regarding fairness and standards of justice, and to push back against cynical. emotional and ignorant protests, instead of enabling them with a lazy and non-committal, “I can certainly understand why they feel that way.”
We have to do all this, but as long as there is political currency in doing the opposite. the use of tribalism to undermine the law will continue, and worsen.