One hot summer night in south Minneapolis, three people went into an alley to make sure everything was safe.
Mohamed Noor, the cop on patrol with his partner. Justine Ruszczyk Damond, the worried neighbor who’d called 911 twice to report cries she’d heard in the dark.
She was on the phone with her out-of-town fiancé when the squad car pulled up behind her home.
“OK,” she said, delivering the last words he’d ever hear her say. “The police are here.”
Then she ran outside, barefoot and in her pajamas, where a startled Noor shot her dead, one month before her wedding day.
The trial of the Minneapolis police officer who killed the woman who called him for help is heading into its third week.
In a Hennepin County courtroom, the jury studied a collage of crime scene photos and videos, listened to Damond’s voice on the phone with the 911 operator, and began the painful work of weighing evidence in a case that rips every raw nerve in the national debate over police shootings, court bias, race, immigration and press freedom.
The body cameras Noor and his partner carried didn’t start rolling until it was too late. But police cameras toggled on and off throughout the night like a stop-motion horror film.
Judge Kathryn Quaintance, seemingly baffled by the idea that the press and the public might want to see that evidence for themselves, only grudgingly agreed to let the whole courtroom view the footage as it’s introduced into evidence.
“I don’t know who would want to watch it unless it’s somebody who wants to watch snuff films,” she said at one point, as if the public had no stake in this tragedy. As if Noor hadn’t been out there on our behalf, sworn to protect and serve. As if we hadn’t paid for his bullets.
In the alley that night, Noor and his partner rolled down the windows and listened. No screams or cries for help. A teenager on a bike pedaled by on the street. Just a quiet night in a neighborhood with one of the lowest crime rates in the city.
Coast is clear, Noor punched a quick report into the cruiser’s computer. Officers safe.
Moments later, Noor fired a shot past his partner and toward a figure outside the driver-side window.
Damon clutched her abdomen, blood spreading across her pink T-shirt.
“I’m dying,” the officers remembered her saying as they rushed to her side.
She was an Australian who fell for a Minnesotan. She was a loving and much-loved daughter, fiancée and friend — and she was one of an estimated 987 people shot and killed by police in this country in 2017. A bright and happy life, reduced and defined by its violent end.
We watched some of them die — on edited bodycam and dashcam footage, on Facebook Live, and on bystanders’ jerky cellphone videos.
Philando Castile lay dying before our eyes on a police dash camera, bleeding out on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights while officers did chest compressions. Tamir Rice, 12 years old and playing with a toy gun in a park in Cleveland, died on camera too.
At Columbine and Parkland, kids are putting stickers on their school ID tags, asking journalists to publish images of their dead bodies if they’re gunned down at school. Organizers of the MyLastShot.org movement say if they meet a terrible end, they want the public to bear witness.
Maybe the bodycam footage will help the jury decide whether Damond’s death was murder or manslaughter or — as the defense argues — a police officer in a dark alley acting on his training, out of justifiable fear for his life.
Maybe the images will simply bear witness to what was done in our name.
During the first week’s jury selection, the attorneys poked and probed the jury pool, searching for signs of unconscious bias as they prepared to try the case of the black immigrant cop who shot the white immigrant woman.
If this police shooting — the one with the white victim and the black cop — feels different from the others, it’s worth asking yourself why.