A collective trauma continues to rock communities of color following the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on April 30 in the July 15, 2017 shooting death of Justine Damond.
The reactions, however, aren’t because of Noor’s guilt.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond the week of the conviction.
The day after Damond was killed, before knowing the officer’s race, Redmond said she was sure the killer of a White woman would be held responsible. So did Nekima Levy-Armstrong, lawyer and community activist.
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Anticipated or not, however, Levy-Armstrong called the process and result “a slap in the face.” That slap and its resulting pain are because guilt only seems to apply when Whites are the victims and/or Blacks and other communities of color are the criminals. The result only “reinforces the fact that Black lives do not matter,” she said.
“White women are the only few people allowed to be a victim,” said Redmond. When Black people like Jamar Clark and Philando Castile were killed by police, “their humanity was not seen.” Their Blackness was fixated on and vilified, even in victimhood, she said.
We don’t want justice to only be applied when the Black person is the perpetrator. We want justice to be applied, period.
The same holds true when Blacks are on the defense. On trial, Noor’s Blackness, Redmond said, superseded his humanity. “That’s why Noor is the first officer convicted,” she said, adding his Somali heritage and Muslim religion were also factors superseding straightforward jurisprudence and the so-called “blue wall of silence” police protectionism.
Noor is reportedly the first police officer in recent Minnesota history to be convicted of murder and manslaughter in connection to an on-duty shooting.
“This is a particular kind of trauma,” said Dr. Joi Lewis, life coach, self-care expert and author of Healing, The Act of Radical Self-Care. “It’s hard to process and metabolize because we want justice to be served — we don’t want justice to only be applied when the Black person is the perpetrator. We want justice to be applied, period.”
“It’s clear Noor was treated much differently than other officers that have shot and killed someone,” said Levy-Armstrong.
The Somali American Police Association agreed. “SAPA believes the institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case,” the group said in a statement. “The aggressive manner in which the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office went after Officer Noor reveals that there were other motives at play other than serving justice.”
Noor’s conviction is a glaring departure from previous cases with White officers who largely leave with a not guilty verdict. So was his treatment throughout the case.
White officers who killed Black people, Levy-Armstrong pointed out, tend to keep their job or pension. Some go right back on patrol, roaming the communities they’ve just caused harm against.
Noor was fired. “His mug shot was splashed across television screens,” said Levy-Armstrong.
“It’s highly unusual for an officer who kills a person in the line of duty to be charged,” she said. The threshold for the deadly-force statute is “so low,” said Levy-Armstrong, that most defenses find success in saying the officer was acting with deadly force out of fear for their safety.
During the trial, Noor said he feared for his life. He was nonetheless convicted. The more serious conviction, for third-degree murder, defines Noor’s actions as coming from a “depraved mind” and could carry a prison sentence of over 12 years.
The latest development is the $20 million settlement Minneapolis agreed to in the civil suit with Damond’s family.
In comparison, Castile’s family received $3 million from St. Paul, noted Redmond. “And he was on tape getting killed,” she said, referencing the recording of Castile’s shooting death that was viewed by millions on Facebook.
Minneapolis “never finds money” for disparities plaguing people of color or poor, vulnerable people of every variety, added Redmond. But, when White people have problems, like the opioid crisis or a White woman being killed by a “Black Somali Muslim man,” she said, “we have the money.”
“This is America.”
As for silver linings for the Black community, the fact that Minneapolis has “$20 million to spend on a family,” as Redmond put it, is promising. As is the White-populated Justice for Justine group’s “solidarity with African American and other people of color demanding a more just system,” Levy-Armstrong pointed out.
“I’m glad Justine got some semblance of justice,” she said. “It’s refreshing seeing affluent White people speaking truth to power.”
Lewis, whose own work centers around helping communities find language for dealing with and breaking free of trauma, said she does not want communities to give up based on the Noor decision.
“I don’t want us to get so numb where we’re like, ‘’Oh, I know this is going to happen,’ because then we will take the pressure off of the system to become just. We can’t afford to do that,” she said.
Redmond added that the Black community’s best currency moving forward is voting in representatives that will enact change.
We have been raising concerns about corruption within the BCA and their pro-police investigations. Only now are those concerns getting attention…
Levy-Armstrong agreed, noting that community needs to not just vote in change, but also become more politically active, themselves. “The families and the friends of those who have lost loved ones to police violence, as well as allies, should show up to city council meetings and demand answers about unequal treatment that African American victims of police violence have received.”
She also said the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also needs to be held accountable for their role in denying communities justice.
“We have been raising concerns about corruption within the BCA and their pro-police investigations. Only now are those concerns getting attention — because the family of Justine Damond has raised similar concerns,” said Levy-Armstrong. “We need to demand a reopening [and audit] of all the cases related to officer-involved shootings. There are longstanding questions of police corruption, violating rights, falsifying of evidence, and leading witnesses during interviews.”
Levy-Armstrong noted change will not happen overnight and will require consistent and continued presence to have their voices heard.
For those still processing, Lewis said to not forget about self-healing. “What do we do in the interim?” she asked. “We still have to make sure that we are stopping, that we are pausing, that we are taking care of ourselves, that we are being in community, that we allow the grief to come and not hold it in and become more numb.”
Noor’s sentencing is on June 7. His attorneys have 90 days to file an appeal. Continue to check back for more community reactions and case updates.
Solomon Gustavo was a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.