We all agree Justine Damond did not deserve to die. Neither did Philando Castile. Police officers killed both in the Minneapolis metro area. But will the outcome be the same? Will the Somali-born police officer who shot Australian-American Justine Damond perhaps walk away without a job, but with no conviction either like the Hispanic officer who killed Philando Castile? Outraged protesters rightly see this as another clear-cut case of police brutality going too far. Except, in the case of Justine’s death, there is no video of the entire incident. There have been reports that a passerby may have cell phone footage, but nothing has come to light yet. The officers inexplicably hadn’t turned on their body cameras until after the shooting. So all we have to go on is the word of the officers at the scene, who were reportedly “startled by a loud sound.” Both were newbies. The cop behind the wheel, Mathew Harrity, 25, had been with the Minneapolis police department for one year, and the actual shooter, Mohamed Noor, 31, for two years. Why two relatively new police officers were partnered together in the same car is questionable in itself.
But putting that aside, let’s look at the backgrounds of the shooters in the Damond and Castile cases. Before becoming a police officer, Noor worked in commercial and residential property management, according to the department. He earned a degree in business administration, management and economics from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, but he entered the police force in March 2015 after completing a seven-month accelerated police cadet program for people who already have a college degree. Former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez had worked for the Department for five years and was 28 years old before that fateful day when he shot Philando Castile. The Minnesota State University-Mankato cum laude graduate had previously earned a degree in law enforcement in 2010.
At the time of the shootings, both Noor and Yanez lived and worked in the Minneapolis metro area (St. Anthony is about 25 minutes from Minneapolis proper), were around the same age and, apparently, both feared for their lives enough to use deadly force. But that’s where the similarities end.
In Philando Castile’s case, there was a witness and a live-streamed video on Facebook. Philando told Officer Yanez he was legally carrying. Yanez told Philando not to reach for his wallet, but he was fiddling around for his wallet anyway. That’s when Yanez freaked out and shot him. The St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth testified on Yanez’ behalf, saying he has “a real sound ability when it comes to communicating and relating to people.” In the end, jurors debated about what was not visible in the video and sided with Yanez’ account. He lost his job, but got a $48K goodbye package. And Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, received a $3 million settlement in his death.
Fast forward now to Noor. Well, his police chief, Janee Harteau, resigned on Friday at the mayor’s request. She gave no defense of Noor on her way out. I’d argue that Noor’s case isn’t clear cut either. We don’t know what Noor and Harrity heard to make Noor react the way he did. And Noor isn’t talking to investigators yet. If the loud sound could have been mistaken for an ambush or a gunshot, followed by a shadowy figure approaching the car, isn’t there reasonable doubt? Or is it sadly the case that shadowy figures or even fear for one’s life is only relevant when the person in question has Black or Brown skin?
Skin color didn’t matter to Valerie Castile who was out at a protest showing support and hugging Don Damond, Justine’s fiancé, during a march in honor of Damond last Thursday. Social media has lit up with a decent number of Black people backing #justiceforjustine and pleading for more police reforms. And some White people finally seem to get it. “This is not about one police officer, this is about a broken system. … It is past time for me and other White people to wake up,” said Sarah Kuhnen, a neighbor of Justine Damond, at the march.
But what will happen to Noor? Will he indeed get the benefit of the doubt in the courtroom given he’s Black and the victim was White? My gut says the brotha’ should brace for impact. However, it will be interesting to see how this case plays out.