Justine Damond. By now you have heard all about what happened in Minneapolis, MN two weeks ago. She was the beautiful, blonde veterinary surgeon and yoga instructor who was shot by an officer responding to a call. She called 911 with a complaint- she was reporting a possible sexual assault she was hearing in an alley by her residence. And that, yes that, got her killed. A beloved forty-year-old American citizen from Australia (she shared dual citizenship as her father is American) who was moments from wedding her fiancé. It was so close, she had already changed her legal name to ‘Damond’ from her maiden name of Ruszczyk. Immediately, this shooting gained media attention as Justine’s face resonated with us as American mainstream’s most sought after ideal. Justine was beautiful. She was well-liked and successful by every metric. She was in shape (a yoga instructor), compassionate (she worked with animals), and followed her dreams. This whole story has given police killings a more sympathetic face to the vast majority of Americans. Case after case of police killings have taken the lives of many minorities and lower-class citizens with public outrage present on social media… but with no guilty convictions. Would this scenario change the discourse on police violence in America? Perhaps. Maybe. One can hope. Damond’s lawyer even dubbed her as the “most innocent” of all police killing victims.
“Most innocent.” Let’s take a look at this comment. Sure, she was completely, 100% innocent of any wrongdoing or illegality. She was simply walking up to a police car and was shot point blank through the vehicle’s window. The police officers in the car stated they were on alert because a “loud noise” startled them. (They are now claiming Justine slapped the back of their car i.e. more victim blaming.) Apparently, a loud noise is enough grounds to shoot will-nilly into the dark. As I have said before, most American police officers are under-trained and not mentally strong enough for the demands of the dangers of the job. Because of this, a woman was shot and killed for no reason whatsoever. But, is Justine the “most innocent?” Really!?! From what perspective are we looking at this event? Is she the most innocent because she is a fair skinned, blonde, woman with whom the general public can sympathize with more directly? It is true, she was innocent. She did not deserve to have her life taken away prematurely and those who did should be held responsible. But, let’s survey past victims of such police murders.
The “Most Innocent” Victims of Police Killings:
- Tamir Rice= Rice was a twelve year old boy who was doing nothing but playing with a toy gun on a playground. Because of this, an officer deemed him such a threat that he shot him from his own police patrolcar. He didn’t even get out of his car to investigate. Still shot by a police officer to death.
- Terrence Cutcher= He was stranded by his broken down car, with his hands up- still shot by a police officer to death.
- Philando Castille= Was legally permitted to carry a weapon, disclosed this information, and was complying with officer’s orders to show ID- still shot by a police officer to death.
- Ismael Lopez= Was sleeping when police officers approached his door and, after he refused to comply, shot him multiple times through his own door. The officers were searching for a different man, whose residence was next door. Still shot by a police officer to death.
These are but a few of the many victims of police shootings that could be described as “innocent.” But for someone to publicly claim that Justine was the “MOST” innocent victim is both naive at best and racist at worst. By accepting this label, we as a society are telling people of color (POC) in the United States that, although they, too, were innocent of any true wrongdoings in each of their respective scenarios, they are not automatically viewed as “innocent.” They are not given the benefit of the doubt of guilt; the only thing these people were guilty of is being a person of color. Because we can’t ignore the numbers. Statistically, police have shot and killed a disproportionately large percentage of black males, who account for nearly a quarter of police shooting deaths, yet are only 6% of the nation’s population. Either black males are inherently criminal or something is wrong with this picture!
As a feminist and as an advocate for every human’s right to live fairly, equally, and with compassion, this Justine Damond case was challenging for me. Should I be thankful that this disproportionately minority-only-issue is finally gracing the “white ideal” stage? Yes, and no. Yes- I thought- yes, it needed to happen. I feel so much sympathy and empathy for this family’s loss of a loved one. But- I also feel the same towards the thousands of black and brown families that feel this loss every day. So, also no- I should not be thankful this took place because it is just that- a senseless loss of life.
As news came out that this perfect women’s killer was Mohamed Noor, in fact- a person of color- another question came to mind. Would this man be hung out to dry unlike his peers before him? Sure, Philando Castille’s killer was not white but he also was NOT black. Damond’s killer is Somali. He is also an immigrant. Would this archetype be the crucifixion the police force has been waiting for? Would he be the one they pin all their blame, all of the frustration throughout these years and years of condemnation by the public (social media mainly.) Only time will tell. In the case of Terrence Cutcher, the white female officer who murdered him was acquitted of all charges. To be honest, I thought she would be the “one” to hang out like a wet towel on a clothesline. Because, who does this society treat as the most lesser of all? Women, of course (Look at the stats: women are killed at a much higher rate than any other demographic globally by partners… women were the last to secure the right to vote… rape culture still dominates our daily lives as sexual assault goes unchecked and eating disorders are rampant.) This woman was a slam dunk for persecution in my eyes. But- NEWP! Officer Betty was ALSO acquitted. So- Mr. Somali American Immigrant Cop will be fine. And another innocent American citizen is six feet under.
It is then that I came to the conclusion that police shootings are never going to change. They are simply the parallel of our white supremacist social fabric. Police officers will continue to be under-trained and over-militarized. And, although police killings quadrupled the number of terrorist killings on US soil since 2014, they will not be vetted to the same degree as my Persian friend’s grandmother visiting from Iran. This problem will continue to be pervasive, no matter who is next in the line of fire. Because what does the government care more about than white supremacy?