Community members in West Savannah, Ga., are up in arms after yet another officer-involved shooting of a young, unarmed black man.
Demonstrators poured into the streets of West Savannah on Thursday night to demand answers in the death of 29-year-old Charles Smith, aka "Mista Dee," who was shot by an officer earlier Thursday while handcuffed inside a police vehicle.
According to officers, Smith was arrested for outstanding warrants, handcuffed and placed inside a patrol car before he managed to pull the cuffs to the front of his body, kick out the window of the vehicle and, police claim, draw a firearm. Police say Officer David Jannot, a 10-year veteran of the department, shot and killed Smith in self defense.
West Savannah residents are extremely skeptical about the police's account for Smith's death, which hinges on the assertion that Smith was in possession of a firearm despite being arrested, handcuffed and, presumably, searched by police before being placed in the back of a police cruiser
"That's injustice," his sister, Catherine Smith, told WTOC. "It's inhumane and it's a crime."
"He's gone, and he won't be able to be here to see the birth of his second child," said another sister, Janie Smith. "He won't be able to raise his two kids that he's got left behind."
Smith's mother suggested that the officers involved had planted a weapon on him to justify the shooting.
"We need answers. We demand answers," National Action Network Savannah Chapter President Aleisha Blakely told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
With the specter of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Mo., hanging over police forces around the county, city authorities are taking the matter very seriously. Mayor Edna Jackson told concerned community members that an outside agency will be investigating the circumstances of the shooting.
"We're going to clear it up to make sure that you know what is happening. As all of you know, when an officer is involved in something we must call on an outside agency, which is the GBI," Jackson said, requesting that residents stay calm and patient until authorities had a better idea of what transpired.
"This will be cleared up, this will be cleared up," she told WTOC. "We don't need anything to happen and we are going to keep the family and the community informed about everything that is going on."
While they wait for the facts, community members are right to be concerned: If unprovoked, Smith's death would be yet another instance of an unarmed black men being shot to death by police for totally unjustified reasons. Police across America routinely shoot and kill black people, with white officers killing black suspects approximately twice a week nationwide according to the most recent FBI statistics.
It's a vicious cycle, one that undermines the very fabric of law enforcement. As racial profiling of minorities has become more routine and results in more unjustified police shootings, non-whites continue to show low confidence in local police forces and justice systems.
According to the Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City poll, just 35% of urban minorities said they had "a lot" of confidence in the cops where they live, compared with 48% of urban whites, while 25% of minorities in U.S. cities — 1 out of 4 — said they had either "not much" or "no confidence" in their local law enforcement.
Even worse, FiveThirtyEight's Reuben Fischer-Baum notes that there's "no governmental effort at all to record the number of unjustifiable homicides by police," while the available data indicates that the oft-cited number of 400 police shootings a year might be a significant underestimate.
During the aftermath of Brown's shooting death in August, some observers suspected that the tragedy would spark a "national conversation" on race and, perhaps, prevent "the next Michael Brown." If Smith was indeed unarmed and handcuffed, it looks like that "national conversation" may have fallen on deaf ears in the law enforcement world.