Editors Note: On May 3, 2019 -Justine Ruszczyk’s family reached a settlement after suing the City of Minneapolis over the shooting death of Justine – $18 million for the family and an extra $2 million for a community group addressing gun violence. This is a record for the city.
By comparison, The mother of Philando Castile, killed by a police officer from St. Anthony, Minn., reached a $3 million settlement with that city.
The settlement came 10 days after the officer who fired the fatal shots, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and all other charges. Mr. Castile’s case is the latest example of a police shooting of a black person leading to a legal settlement but no criminal conviction of the officer involved.
Optically speaking, a Somali officer was convicted of murder for her death in addition to the civil settlement while the officer in Castile’s death was exonerated on a count of second-degree manslaughter (the aftermath was recorded by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds who, along with her daughter, witnessed the murder and settled with the city for $800,000). But what do the optics say? How are black people to receive this? Or the Other instances of officer involved shootings throughout the country in the last few years that have faired far differently than others. That she LOOKS different and that her family looks different and that the officer that shot her was Brown are incredibly difficult to dismiss in trying to evaluate this through the lens of blackness scorned so many times by gross miscarriages of justice in Ferguson, Baltimore, Mississippi, Oakland, Detroit and more.
Jurors in Minneapolis convicted, Mohamed Noor, a former police officer of murder on Tuesday in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk, The Associated Press reported. Rarely do police shootings result in such convictions. (And Rarely are these police shootings involving Brown Officers with Muslim Names shooting White women… what are the odds of a Conviction? Pretty High Evidently). While the goal of this particular post is to inform… it is difficult to escape the obvious optics of Mohamed Noor being convicted for the death of Ruszczyk in the same city where Philando Castile‘s killer, also a police officer as well as Jamar Clark’s Killer – ALSO a police officer were exonerated in their deaths. As you may have guessed by now – both Philando and Jamar were black men – and both were gunned down in a similar fashion to Justine Rusczyk.
The shooting of Justine Ruszczyk, 40, outraged people as far away as Australia, Ms. Ruszczyk birthplace. The shooting also forced changes in the policies and leadership of the Minneapolis Police Department. (You would have thought that Philando and Jamar would have been compelling enough cases – But I guess not).
The trial drew intense attention among Minnesota’s Somali-American residents, many of whom wondered whether the former officer involved, Mohamed Noor, who was born in Somalia, would be treated fairly. To be clear the police union was notably more vocal when Philando Castile was shot in their backing of his killer than they were in Noor’s case. In fact, in Noors Case they were remarkably silent. They were also very vocal in Jamar Clark’s case – with Union President Bob Kroll stating upon the officers being cleared of charges that “It was about time” – the officers were cleared.
The complexities of this case are as convoluted and puzzling as they often are in instances where police shoot people who are both unarmed and not intending to harm them. One of the distinguishing factors between this case and many of the other instances however was that Ms. Ruszczyk approached the police officer’s vehicle and in cases like Castile the officer approached the vehicle. (This raises a whole other question for which I will reserve an opinion piece – but for now we will continue with the facts as we know them).
Noor, who was fired by the Police Department – Interestingly the officers that killed both Castile and Jamar Clark were put on paid administrative leave. Noor declined to speak with investigators about why he opened fire a few minutes before midnight on July 15, 2017. At trial, Mr. Noor, speaking publicly about the shooting for the first time, said he feared for his life when he saw Ms. Ruszczyk approaching his cruiser and made a split-second decision to shoot.
“I fired one shot,” Mr. Noor said in court, according to The Star Tribunenewspaper. “The threat was gone. She could have had a weapon.”
His defense was that he believed he was acting reasonably in self defense. The prosecution tried him for murder. In the alternative Castile’s killer was tried for Manslaughter which is a lesser included offense under the murder doctrine. Jamar Clark’s killer’s did not face discipline.
Prosecutors said Mr. Noor, 33, acted unreasonably — firing at a shadowy figure without a verbal warning — and that he should be convicted of murder.
“Justine was approaching the car unarmed. They couldn’t even tell whether it was a male or a female, an adult or a child,” said Mike Freeman, Hennepin County’s elected prosecutor, when charges were filed last year. “What is the threat that requires the use of deadly force? What was the serious crime that was going on?” (Same Question we asked when Philando Was Killed on Facebook Live Mr. and Ms. Prosecutor…)
Ms. Ruszczyk had called 911 twice that night to report what she thought was a sexual assault in the alley behind her home. Peter Wold, a lawyer for Mr. Noor, acknowledged that Ms. Ruszczyk, posed no threat. She had been holding a glittery cellphone and standing outside a rolled-down window of the squad car when she was shot. (Not the same city but we do know that Stephon Clark was shot and killed while holding a cellphone in Sacramento California last year. His officers were not prosecuted).
To be clear, Justine Ruszczyk died tragically and unreasonably and should still be here. Her death is not justified through explanations given by the officer and she should not have died as a result of the encounter. That her family was given some opportunity at some semblance of justice is promising and, yet, while this is true- It also feels like a slap in the faces of Diamond Reynolds and her daughter and the family of Jamar Clark, as well as to black people who are seemingly in a constant state of seeking when it comes to Justice in a system that often reminds us how much it was not designed for black lives to prevail.