Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What and why

It's one thing to know what happened. It's quite another to know why. As we learn more about the circumstances of the death of Justine Damond at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the why will matter greatly:
Police officers Matthew Harrity and Mohamed Noor eased their patrol vehicle into the alley of the quiet south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday, the squad’s lights off as they responded to a report of a possible assault.

Near the end of the alley, a “loud sound” startled Harrity. A moment later, Justine Damond, the woman who had called 911, approached the driver’s side of the squad car. Suddenly a surprise burst of gunfire blasted past Harrity as Noor fired through the squad’s open window, striking Damond in the abdomen.

The two officers began lifesaving efforts, but within 20 minutes Damond was dead.
For his part, Noor isn't talking, at least yet:
That rudimentary account of her death, released Tuesday by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is based on an interview that Harrity, 25, a one-year veteran of the force, gave to BCA investigators about a case that has become a focus of national and international attention. Noor so far has refused to talk to investigators and there is no indication when or if he might tell his side of the story.
Cops understand Miranda rights, at least for themselves. And a right is a right, so Noor's decision to stay silent and not answer questions is understandable, although it's likely to frustrate people looking for an explanation.

So what was Noor thinking? Well, maybe about this incident, as reported in the New York Times:
On a corner in the Bronx strained by steady rancor over unsolved crimes, and distrust of the police, Officer Miosotis Familia was a balm.

She had earned a reputation as “a good policewoman” in the short time she was assigned to an R.V.-style police command post at East 183rd Street and Morris Avenue, two miles north of Yankee Stadium, a longtime resident, Roma Martinez, said. She waved hello; she spoke Spanish.

But long before she arrived, a hostility toward law enforcement personnel was building in Alexander Bonds, who had been in and out of prisons and jails for 15 years and was slipping into severe mental illness. Last year he warned in a Facebook video that he would not back down if he encountered police officers on the streets: “I got broken ribs for a reason, son. We gonna shake.”

His girlfriend called 911 on Tuesday night and told the police that Mr. Bonds “was acting in a manic, depressed state — paranoid,” a law enforcement official said. When officers arrived, he had gone.

About three hours later, with Fourth of July fireworks still going off, Mr. Bonds strode up to Officer Familia’s command post and fired a .38-caliber revolver through a window, killing her with a bullet to the head. She was the first female New York Police Department officer killed in the line of duty since the Sept. 11 attacks, and only the third female officer killed in a combat-type encounter in the department’s history.
Let's be clear. The genteel Fulton neighborhood is hardly the south Bronx. And an unarmed 40-year-old woman in her pajamas was no threat to Mohamed Noor that night. I assume Damond would have had no reason to think about something that happened two weeks earlier, about 1000 miles away from the alley where she was killed. Almost certainly she approached the squad car to tell the officers what she had heard, not to kill the officers in an ambush. Back to the Star Tribune report:
The responding officers had not been on the force long. Harrity was hired a year ago; Noor two years ago. Asked by the media about partnering two relatively inexperienced officers, Arradondo said: “These were two fully trained police officers.”

They drove south through the alley between Washburn and Xerxes avenues S., toward 51st Street West, with the squad lights turned off. As they reached the street, “Harrity indicated that he was startled by a loud sound near the squad,” according to the preliminary BCA investigation. Damon approached the driver’s side window of the squad car “immediately afterward,” according to the statement.

After Noor shot Damond, the officers quickly exited the car and started performing CPR until medical responders arrived. Damond was pronounced dead at the scene.
Was Mohamed Noor thinking about Miosotis Familia? We don't know, because he isn't talking. We can speculate, but we cannot know unless Noor decides to tell his story. Would a more veteran team of police officers have responded differently? Perhaps, but we don't know. I have not been through training for police officers. I don't know what Noor was taught. Perhaps his instructors could tell us.

We have an idea of what happened. We're not going to get to why for a while. We'll continue to watch the story.

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