Shootings in Roanoke, Montgomery and Salt Lake City a Reminder That Police Violence Against Black People Is Unceasing
Yet another story of police killing a Black teen is in the news, this time in Virginia. As CNN reported, two Roanoke police officers are on administrative leave following the shooting death of Kionte DeShaun Spencer, 18. Spencer, who was wearing headphones when he was shot and holding a BB gun at the time, refused to drop his gun as ordered, and continued walking, according to police. The teen was struck twice, and his death is being compared to the 2014 killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
According to Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall, officers were responding to reports of a man wearing a bandana and waving and pointing a gun at cars that were passing by. Hall added that attempts to Taser Spencer were “ineffective.”
Hall said, “This was a deadly-force encounter, despite the fact that we know now that this handgun was an air gun,” the chief added, noting that Spencer was shot in the collarbone and hip with the BB gun still in his hand, and died in the hospital.
“It was not a deadly force situation. There was no evidence that this young teenager was a threat to anybody,” said Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke chapter of the NAACP.
Hale noted that this is the latest in an epidemic of unnecessary lethal force incidents by police. Carl Spencer characterized his brother Kionte as “harmless” and “just a normal teenager” who always wore headphones, and likely did not hear the police order him to put the gun down.
The killing of Kionte DeShaun Spencer at the hands of police comes as an Alabama officer is arrested and charged with the murder of an unarmed Black man. Montgomery police officer Aaron Smith, 23, was charged in the shooting death of Gregory Gunn, 59, early Thursday, as NBC News reported.
“[The State Bureau of Investigations] and I agreed at the beginning of this investigation that this case would be treated as any other case,” Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said in a statement. “We agreed that if there were probable cause that a crime had been committed then an arrest would be made.”
WSFA had reported that police said Smith was on patrol when he stopped a supposedly suspicious man walking down the street. There was a struggle and altercation according to police, and Smith fired his weapon, killing Gunn, who was carrying a painter’s pole or stick. Smith is on leave, with a process of termination pending.
“We’re sorry Mr. Gunn’s life was taken. But Mr. Gunn placed himself in a position to where this officer had to use the progressive levels of force that we train him in,” Mickey McDermott, Smith’s lawyer, told WSFA.
“My brother didn’t get five minutes of nobody’s time. He was executed,” Franklin Gunn told CNN. “They didn’t even look at the man. [They looked at] the color of his skin. … He was judged; he was tried and he was hung,” he added.
“He told me I could be something,” Kimberly Gunn said of her brother. “He helped me with my first car, my first home. He did everything for my son.”
She added: “I’ve been crying all day. I lost my brother and now someone else is going to lose a son. It’s just sad.”
The rapid response in charging a white officer with murder for shooting a Black man stands in marked contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, as ABC News reported, when confrontations between white police and Black residents resulted in high tensions in Montgomery.
“In the history of Montgomery, this is not one of our great days,” Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said Wednesday.
Another shooting that has not received much attention involved the shooting of a 17-year-old Somali immigrant in Salt Lake City, Utah. Abdi Mohamed is in critical condition after being shot by police twice in the torso, following a reported police intervention in a fight, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The police deny that racial bias played a role in the shooting of this teen refugee.
The shooting of Mohamed, a young father who fled from Somalia to Kenya, and the refusal by Salt Lake City police to release the officer’s body cam video, have sparked protests by those who suggest race was a factor in the incident. Around 100 riot police confronted protesters, and four people were arrested, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
Police “need retraining,” said Kaylee Peterson, one of the protesters. “Whatever happened to Tasers? Whatever happened to rubber bullets? Whatever happened to shooting shots in the sky as a warning?”
“Because of past unfortunate incidents of controversial police shootings nationwide, the release of the body camera video could help allay community concerns about transparency and accountability,” said Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as Al Jazeera reported.
As much of the public’s attention is fixed on politics and the presidential election, these days, the killing of Black people continues. According to The Guardian’s database known as The Counted, 175 people have been killed by police for far this year. Although 36 Blacks, 19 Latinos and 85 whites are among the people killed in 2016, we should note that Blacks have been killed by police at a rate double that of whites — 0.86 per million for African-Americans as opposed to 0.43 for whites.
A Harvard study released late last year declared that police killings in the U.S., disproportionately of Black people, should be regarded as a public health crisis that should be monitored, and not just a criminal justice matter. The researchers found that the number of people killed by police in the first nine months of 2015 exceeded the total deaths of people due to pneumonia, influenza, measles, malaria and mumps nationwide, and was comparable to the number of cases of Hepatitis A. Further, these deaths affect the well-being of the families and communities in which these individuals lived.
“We propose that law-enforcement-related deaths be treated as a notifiable condition, which would allow public health departments to report these data in real-time, at the local as well as national level, thereby providing data needed to understand and prevent the problem,” the authors of the Harvard study wrote.