More than 660 people have been killed by American police so far in 2017. This year is on pace to be the deadliest on record for people killed by American police since national databases began keeping track in 2013. No other developed nation in the world has 10% of that number. We are experiencing a full-blown crisis of police brutality in this country, but it’s hardly getting any coverage as Donald Trump absolutely sucks the wind out of the news cycle every single day.
A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine told me “Shaun – I don’t think this country is ever really going to give a damn about police brutality until they see it destroying the lives of white families.” I think he’s right. That’s the American way. It’s what we’re basically seeing with the opioid crisis in our country right now. As our nation seems to be coming to grips with the alarming crisis of drug addiction affecting and destroying families from coast to coast, we’re beginning to see emergency solutions bust right on through the war on drugs. The level of humanity and compassion being shown to those affected by the opioid crisis is right. I support it. But that same humanity and compassion was absolutely missing during the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s. Instead, America’s jails and prisons were stocked full with addicts and dealers alike.
This weekend in Minneapolis, I believe police brutality jumped the racial fence when a beautiful, blonde haired, white woman, Justine Damond, a yoga and meditation instructor from Australia, who was just a few weeks away from getting married, was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer outside of her home. From all indications, Damond called the police herself when she believed she heard some type of disturbance in the alley behind her home. At almost midnight on Saturday, when she met the officers outside in her pajamas, an officer inside of the car shot and killed Justine. She wasn’t found to be carrying a weapon. The cops shot and killed an unarmed white yoga instructor in her pajamas who called them for help. It’s ludicrous.
Police have so far refused to give any adequate details on why officers felt the need to shoot this woman. But local activists and leaders weren’t so worried about the initial statement from the department because every single officer in Minneapolis now wears a body camera – a reform that was hard-fought from the community. Except, just like we’ve seen in numerous cases of police brutality against African Americans in this country, both officers claim that their cameras weren’t turned on at the time of the shooting. They also claim that the camera in their squad car failed to capture anything.
Australian woman living in US fatally shot by Minneapolis police
In other words, the only witness besides the cops to the shooting is dead, no known footage of it exists, and all we will have left to go by is the word of the cops who did the shooting. If the past is any indication, we should expect the officers to corroborate each other’s stories and speak of how the yoga instructor caused them to fear for their lives. Except this time, police will not be able to lean on racist stereotypes and tropes to carry them through a wave of public backlash. Not only that, but their shooting death of Justine Damond is already dominating news headlines in the United States and Australia.
Here’s the thing – I think Eric Garner, who was choked to death by the NYPD three years ago today, is the perfect face of police brutality victims. So is Sandra Bland. So is Tamir Rice. So is Amadou Diallo. So is Rekia Boyd. So is Jordan Edwards. So is Philando Castile. But I’ll be honest with you, I think a lot of well-meaning white people have looked at the most well-known cases of police brutality, and have seen a black problem that is simply unlikely to visit them like it is now visiting the family of Justine Damond.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the concept of “mirror neurons.” Google it. It’s some deeply fascinating stuff. Simply put, it’s the concept of how when you see something happening to someone who looks like you, or reminds you of yourself, you have neurons in your brain that fire off almost like you yourself are experiencing the thing you are watching. For the past three years, African Americans across the country have been watching the horrors of police brutality and internalizing so much of the pain as those mirror neurons fire off. The pain and the plight are personal.
Maybe, just maybe, with the shooting death of Justine Damond, millions of white people, for the very first time, will now see a victim of police brutality, and see themselves.
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