No sooner had police announced the arrest of the 21-year-old man suspected of opening fire on a suburban Chicago parade than social media exploded with accusations of a racist double standard.
Police say that Robert E. Crimo III squeezed off more than 70 rounds from a Highland Park rooftop on July 4, killing seven and injuring dozens more. After a brief car chase, Crimo was arrested without incident.
The same cannot be said for Jayland Walker. In a July 3 press conference, police in Akron, Ohio acknowledged that nine patrol officers shot the 25-year-old DoorDash driver more than 60 times during a foot chase.
While police contend that Walker fired at them from his car during the initial pursuit following an attempted traffic stop, they concede that he ditched his gun in his vehicle and was unarmed when officers fired more than 90 shots at him as he fled on foot.
Adding insult to injury, police handcuffed Walker as he lay fatally injured.
A deluge of memes and social media posts have surfaced in the week since the shootings in Highland Park, and while the commentary takes any number of forms, they are all variations of a theme that note three critical differences between the two men:
Walker was Black, while Crimo is White;
Walker was wanted for a traffic offense, while Crimo was wanted for multiple murders;
And lastly, Walker is dead and Crimo is not.
One widely circulated tweet adds Walker’s name to a list of three unarmed African Americans: 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer; 23-year-old Sean Bell, who died in a fusillade of 50 shots fired by New York police officers; and Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who died in a hail of 41 bullets fired by the NYPD.
These deadly encounters stand in stark contrast to White mass murder suspects such as Peyton Gendron, who is charged with fatally shooting 10 Blacks at a Buffalo grocery store in May, and Dylan Roof who was not only handled with kid gloves by police after murdering nine African Americans in a South Carolina church seven years ago, but was rather famously treated to Burger King by his arresting officers.
George Pate, an African American living in Detroit, told the Spokesman-Recorder: “It is beyond frustrating. The American White society sees it as normal, otherwise they would make something happen or some changes. Our cries for change go unheard.
“This has been routinely going on since slavery and been openly watched by video for about 20 years! Like l stated years ago, these are modern-day lynchings, killing Black people on live TV.”
Statistics are unambiguous. Unarmed Black people are killed by police at a rate three times higher than Whites, research shows, even though Whites who are stopped by police are twice as likely to be carrying a handgun. Moreover, many high-profile police killings of Blacks in recent years were predicated on routine traffic stops.
These include Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer, Kim Potter, in 2021, and the 2016 fatal shooting of Philando Castile by a St. Anthony police officer. In April, a police officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Christopher Schurr, fatally shot a Congolese immigrant, Patrick Lyoya, following a traffic stop.
In an interview with the Spokesman-Recorder, Jack Glaser, a professor of social psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, said that the empirical evidence makes clear that police approach African Americans and Whites differently in effecting traffic stops. The problem, however, is that Whites tend to gaslight these fatal incidents by explaining, for instance, that Walker allegedly fired at police, or musing that Crimo followed police commands.
“Whites want to believe that the world is generally fair, and there are people who just don’t want to believe that there is a group of people who are much more vulnerable to state violence than they are,” said Glaser, the author of Suspect Race: Causes and Consequences of Racial Profiling.
“They want to believe in a just world and that they deserve their advantages and privileges. It’s more comforting to think you hit a triple rather than being born on third [base].”
Police, on the other hand, are motivated by an even more primal emotion: fear. Buying into stereotypes of Blacks as “animalistic” and possessed of superhuman strength, police respond with both prejudice and excessive force.
The proof of their fear is in the volume of shots that often characterize the violent apprehension of unarmed African Americans, Glaser said, pointing out that at most police academies officers are trained to fire in short bursts of three until the perceived threat is extinguished.
“But cops get really scared and they just unload,” Glaser said. “I’ve spoken to police officers who’ve told me that they’ve soiled themselves” during violent encounters with Blacks.
The tragic irony is that fear is also precisely what motivates some Blacks, like Walker, to flee police who they believe, with some justification, have a “shoot-first” mentality. Walker, for instance, had no criminal record, and both his family and attorney dispute police accounts that he fired at pursuing officers, noting that the gun found on the front seat of his car was unloaded and seemed to have been planted by police to cover their tracks.
“It’s the terror of knowing that no matter what you do, this may not end well,” Kerwin Webb, an African American who heads a job and life skills program for young Black men in Asbury Park, New Jersey, told CNN. “It’s an ingrained fear for your life. What is the best way for me to try to survive? It’s the reality of being Black in America.”