For the first time in the entire history of the State of Minnesota, a police officer was just convicted of murder. Think about that. Minnesota was founded all the way back in 1858, that’s 161 years ago, and the very first officer, out of hundreds of fatal police shootings across the years, the very first officer was just convicted.
And it just so happened that the officer was not just Black, but was a Somali immigrant, and a Muslim – and the victim was a white woman.
I’m glad he was convicted, but if you think race & religion & nationality had nothing to do with this verdict, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
On the evening of July 15th, 2017, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Justine Damond, a 40 year old white woman from Australia, called 911 because she thought she heard some type of assault taking place on an alley outside of her home. She called the police once to report it – and as she continued to hear the noises – she called 911 again 8 minutes later to see if the police were close.
And when she saw the lights of the Minneapolis Police car in the alley, she went outside in her pajamas to speak to the officers to tell them what she saw.
Except she never got to speak a single word to the officers.
As she walked up to the driver’s side window of the car, the officer in the passenger side, Officer Mohamed Noor, saw her, grabbed his gun, and shot her right there in the alley.
I travel and speak in Minneapolis a lot. I heard about this police shooting the next day and as soon as I saw the picture of Justine Damond, and learned that her family was an affluent white family, that the Australian government was advocating for her, and that she was both a veterinarian and a meditation coach, I was surprised.
I’ve studied thousands of police shootings. For years, I’d study every shooting that happened every single day. Some days American police would shoot and kill 2-3 people, some days it’d climb higher, to 5-6, even as many as 12-13 people in a single day. And each day, I’d look at each name, read the reports, see what I could learn, and I saw a lot of trends in who American police would shoot and kill. Of course there are exceptions, but by in large American police rarely shot unarmed white women. If a white woman got shot and killed by police, and I’ve studied dozens of cases of white women being shot and killed, I’d say about 99% of the time she was either armed with a gun or a knife – or was having a severe mental health crisis – or some combination of these things. I don’t say any of that to justify those shootings, but I can’t recall another unarmed, non-violent, affluent, healthy, mentally stable white woman being shot and killed by police. Even in preparation for this episode I went back to look at my notes and I just couldn’t find a case. Now, I can tell you plenty of cases that fit this description when we make it a man, or make it a person of color, but when it comes to police violence, no class of American is more protected than unarmed, non-violent, wealthy, healthy white women.
So the moment I found out who Justine Damond was, and confirmed that she was indeed unarmed, non-violent, wasn’t intoxicated, wasn’t on drugs, and wasn’t having a mental health crisis– the moment was just weird. What happened to her, just doesn’t happen to white women.
Then I saw the name and picture of the officer who shot and killed her – and for the first time in my life, before or even since this moment, for the first and only time in my life, I knew for sure that we were about to see an officer get convicted of murder. Not because the evidence was overwhelming. Both cops on the scene had their body cameras off. The car didn’t have a dash cam. No cell phone videos filmed the shooting. No eyewitnesses saw the shooting. And the one person who could dispute the testimony of the cop’s was dead.
I knew we’d see a conviction in this case, because Justine Damond was a wealthy, popular, blonde haired blued eyed white woman and the officer that shot her was not just a Black man, but a Somali immigrant and practicing Muslim. The United States has about 2,500 counties. I believe Officer Mohamed Noor would’ve likely been convicted in all but maybe 1-2 of them.
Not one person I know thought this decision would go the other way. Because what we know is what I need you to know – nobody in the United States of America is held more responsible for their crimes than Black folk. Period. And then add on top of that the fact that he is an immigrant and a Muslim in the age of Trump – Mohamed Noor never stood a chance.
And it’s hard to explain my mixed emotions here. And I’ve seen other activists and organizers struggle as well. It’s just painful to see the ease in which Mohamed Noor, with less evidence, no camera footage, no other eyewitnesses, to see the ease in which he was convicted, when we’ve seen so many other cases, with so much more evidence, when the victim was Black, and see the cop be set free.
Let me close us out with this thought. I just studied the notes that the judge gave the jurors to consider in this case and I think this case may have unintentionally set a new precedent for when an officer can be convicted. I’m going to dive in and study that some more and will report back to you all what I find.