Those in control do an injustice to us all when they do not address the race factor when it comes to the killing of 19-year-old Mark E. Henderson, Jr. by three Woodbury police officers. No one will heal when taking this end-around approach.
Let us get it out in the open, force a discussion. Henderson is dead because he was a young Black man, not because the Grand Jury review said “the three police officers acted properly when they shot and killed him” on August 31 at the Red Roof Inn (Star Tribune, January 25).
He is dead because most of us, including the three police officers, cannot entertain the thought, imagine or comprehend that there could have been a young Black male hostage who was not a threat — not connected to the kidnapper’s behavior, though they were both Black — but terrified and running for his life.
“When the police arrived at the motel room, Demetrius S. Ballinger, 25, who had taken Henderson and a group of 11 young people hostage, pointed a handgun at the police. The officers then retreated and called for additional assistance.” The officers then heard a gunshot as the door opened and Henderson emerged coming toward the officers, ignoring their commands.
“Henderson was shot by police who didn’t know he was a hostage and mistakenly believed he had a weapon.” (Star Tribune, January 25) When they examined his body, they saw that Ballinger had also shot Henderson.
If Henderson was White, they would have seen him as a hostage trying to flee. And why “mistakenly believe he has a weapon”? Because he is a young Black man and is the same skin color as Ballinger the kidnapper, that is why.
If Henderson comes flying out of that motel room after a shot is fired inside the room, and he is White, the police are not going to be barking commands at him to stop. They will quickly help him and pull him to safety. They will view him as a terrified hostage trying to flee a dangerous scene.
But Henderson is not given that consideration. He is only given the opportunity to be viewed as armed and dangerous based on skin color.
The Grand Jury, Woodbury police, Pioneer Press and Start Tribune all know this, but they say and do nothing. The young man’s mother, Tawana Henderson, has every right to be outraged. If the exact same situation unfolds and Henderson is White, he is not dead.
Henderson was profiled. No one that young, that scared, that innocent, should have to be gunned down experiencing so much pain and confusion. His last thought must have been, “Why in the hell are all these people shooting at me?” He had a lunatic shooting at him and the three police officers shooting at him all at the same time. His mistake was running toward those who were supposed to protect him.
A White male comes running out of that hotel room and he is not going to be automatically seen as armed and dangerous. This is where we are at in Minnesota. After the police see that Ballinger is Black and armed, they go on automatic pilot, and any other Black male in that room is seen to be as dangerous as they view Ballinger.
The thought or ability to comprehend that there could have been a young Black man in that room who was an innocent, terrified hostage not connected to Ballinger’s criminal behavior is just not there, not possible. Henderson and Ballenger were seen as the same.
Frank Erickson lives in Minneapolis.