“Over the past 12 years there have been some 12,000 police shootings … only 95 have been prosecuted and less than half of those successfully prosecuted … this was one.”
Those were the stunning words of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman just minutes after his office was successful in convicting former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor with one count of third-degree murder and one count of second-degree manslaughter in the July 15, 2017 killing of Justine Ruszczyk (Damond). The question (in many ways rhetorical) then becomes, what made this instance so unique?
The answer is as obvious as black and white. And we need look no further than Freeman himself.
Let me start by saying a couple of things that should be obvious. Justine Ruszczyk should be alive … period. And Mohamed Noor should have been held accountable – as he was – for his actions … period. When you see some Black people speaking out about the recent Noor verdict, they are not doing so in support of Noor, per se, they are doing so in support of those who did not find the same justice Ruszczyk was afforded. They are doing so with the memories of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark fresh in their minds, knowing Castile’s killer, former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted by a Ramsey County jury for shooting Castile – a Black man – seven times … seven times … for attempting to hand Yanez his ID and the killers of Clark, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, Minneapolis police officers, were never even charged; a decision made by Freeman. Yes, the same Freeman who gloated at the conviction of Noor. To add even further insult in the Clark matter, Ringgenberg and Schwarze were given back their jobs. Excuse me … allowed to keep their jobs, as they never lost them. At least the city leaders in St. Anthony had the decency to fire Yanez, even after his acquittal.
I was there on March 30, 2016 at the Hennepin County Government Center when Freeman announced he … and he alone … had decided not to charge the killers of Clark, – an unarmed 24-year-old Black man. I was there when Freeman showed the surveillance video of Clark facing away from the officers when he was grabbed from behind and pulled out of the camera’s frame … ultimately, pulled to his death. The total encounter took all of 20 seconds. The camera doesn’t capture the shooting, but it clearly shows Clark was in no way the aggressor in the situation that lead to his death. The only threat he posed was being Black.
Freeman’s office even acknowledges its own bias. In a recent rollout of a data dashboard, a press release stated, “According to census numbers, the Hennepin County population is approximately 69 percent white, 13 percent Black, 7 percent Hispanic/Latino, 7 percent Asian and .7 percent Native American. However, on average, the composition of our felony and gross misdemeanor cases is 33 percent white, 54 percent Black, 2 percent Asian and 5 percent Native American.”
Yes, Noor was found guilty because he was wrong, but I dare say he was charged because he was Black. Had Ruszczyk done the shooting and Noor been the victim I suspect the outcome would have been much different.
Ruszczyk, the victim that she was, posed no threat. The prosecutor in the Noor case drove that point home perfectly.
“So, her whole; her whole blonde hair, pink T-shirt, and all, that was a threat to you?” questioned Hennepin County prosecutor Amy Sweasy of Noor.
Blonde hair and pink T-shirt are no threat, but black hair (or more to the point, black skin) and a white T-shirt … or whatever the day’s attire is for a Black (thug), Brown (criminal/ rapist), Native (savage), darker Middle Easterner (terrorist), etc.; “well, let’s not jump to conclusions. You never know what they are capable of.”
Again, those of us speaking out with disdain in our voices at the verdict in the killing of Justine Ruszczyk are not doing so with animus towards Ruszczyk; it’s with animus towards a system that continues to devalue Black lives … a system so malicious towards us that we have to shout “Black lives matter” in anguished efforts just to proclaim our humanity.