The attorney for the family of Justine Damond, a white Australian woman shot and killed by Minneapolis police on Saturday, said Thursday that Damond was “the most innocent victim” of a police shooting he has ever seen, according to the Star Tribune.
“I’m not saying Philando [Castile] wasn’t innocent too, or that Frank Baker wasn’t innocent,” Twin Cities attorney Robert Bennett, who represented Baker and the Castile family in police violence cases, said. “But here is someone who called the police and was trying to stop someone from being hurt … and ends up being shot in her pajamas.”
Damond was shot when she approached the driver’s side window of a patrol car after calling the police to report a possible assault near her home, reports ABC News. Mohamed Noor reportedly shot Damond after his partner was startled by a loud noise outside the car.
But the “most innocent” moniker has rubbed observers the wrong way. Local Black Lives Matter activists were already conflicted after a crowd of white residents gathered in Damond’s neighborhood Monday to share their thoughts on the need for police reform — residents who, according to BLM leader Chauntyll Allen, were largely absent when activists were protesting the deaths of Castile and Jamar Clark.
“Some white people don’t feel the tragedy until one of them is murdered,” Allen told Mic in an interview Wednesday.
Now, here was Damond’s attorney calling her “the most innocent” victim of an epidemic that has claimed countless black lives over the years. Black people constitute roughly a quarter of the 2,508 people shot and killed by police in the United States since 2015, despite representing 13% of the U.S. population.
Many of the victims have been children. That Damond’s innocence might supersede theirs seems only possible because she is a white woman, observers claimed. In April, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was shot in the head and killed by police in Balch Springs, Texas, while he was sitting in a car leaving a party with friends. In May 2010, 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was shot in the head by an officer with Detroit’s Special Response Team while she was sleeping on the couch in her family home.
“This is coded as hell,” journalist Erick Fernandez tweeted about Bennett’s comments.
“Why do I feel like ‘most innocent’ is being used to replace one specific word here?” tweeted user @mindthet.
On the other hand, the officer who fatally shot Damond has been uniquely demonized by conservative media. Noor is Somali-American. According to a tally by the progressive media research center Media Matters for America, Fox News aired no fewer than six segments in the three days after the shooting that either described Noor as Somali-American, an “immigrant” from Somalia or referenced Minneapolis’s “significant Somali population.”
Anchor Tucker Carlson went so far as to suggest that other media outlets were deliberately trying to hide Noor’s ethnic background (CNN and MSNBC aired 21 combined segments about the shooting and only mentioned the officer’s ethnicity twice).
“Mohamed Noor was an immigrant from Somalia,” Carlson said. “Is that a relevant fact? We don’t know. But it’s being treated as one by many news organizations. How do you know that? Because they’re not reporting it.”
Damond “didn’t have to die,” Minneapolis police chief Janeé Harteau said Thursday, according to ABC News, adding that the conduct which led to her death was inconsistent with “who we are as a department.”
But on a higher level, the way observers have reacted to this shooting also illustrates the prominence of race in how Americans understand guilt and innocence.