In the Little Free Library near the corner of 51st and Washburn you can get a sense of the neighborhood by what they read. The little wooden box included copies of Hardy Boys mysteries, “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” by Gertrude Stein and Gregg Olsen’s “Now that She’s Gone.”
A few feet away, a front-yard garden showed promising bounty, basil and kale and Swiss chard, and featured a sign that says all are welcome here.
Across the street, a camera crew from Australia was setting up, ready to chronicle the latest police shooting of an unarmed person. This time there is a twist: The victim is a white woman, a native of Australia who was loved by her neighbors, who taught yoga and meditation, and who was shot dead in her PJs after calling 911 because she thought she heard an assault. She had no weapon, only a cellphone that probably made the call and led to her death.
We are international news, again, for all the wrong reasons. It’s no longer a surprise to see the folks you see on the nightly national news at the scene of suspicious, baffling deaths at the hands of our law enforcement officers.
There’s Blake McCoy, of NBC News. We chatted for a while after the shooting of Jamar Clark. Or was it Philando Castile? Sorry, they are all starting to run together, aren’t they?
Just before 5 p.m. Monday, all the on-camera folks were standing by the alley where Justine Damond was killed. They dabbed at the sweat and practiced their story lines, though most of them probably don’t need to practice much anymore.
It’s Made in America Week, and this is what we are showing the world: gun violence and police shootings of unarmed people. We invented it, and we own it. Someone called it “American carnage,” which sounds about right.
The scene near the shooting seems incongruous in this Fulton neighborhood, where a girl stood watering the daylilies as a dozen or more reporters wandered around looking for quotes. This kind of action is usually reserved for the poor neighborhoods, where cops feel on edge.
Damond’s Facebook page showed a woman with an inordinate amount of humanity and optimism. There was a picture of Buddha, with a quote: “When you realize how perfect everything is, you will throw your head back and laugh at the sky.”
Neighbors answered Damond’s death with their own signs, many written in chalk on the sidewalk.
“Cops panic, people die.”
“Justine, we love you and are so grateful for all the light, love and joy you spread to the world.”
And this: “It’s human now, isn’t it?”
It’s an obvious reference to the fact that most innocent people shot by police are black, and perhaps now white people in the nice neighborhoods will begin to care enough that something changes.
There is one thing that should change, immediately. The police did not have their body cameras on because they essentially wrote the rules that govern when they have to use them. Critics said at the time it was bad legislation, I wrote it was bad legislation, and this proves we were right. Body cameras operated at the whim of the officers wearing them are useless, a waste of money.
Any rational person would think that officers responding to a possible sexual assault late at night would have their cameras on. The rules need to be more specific, and violating them should be a fireable offense.
By most accounts, the officer who shot Damond, Mohamed Noor, was a decent person who joined the force because he wanted to help his community. They usually are, yet good cops shoot good people way too many times in this country. I’m hard-pressed to think of a story line that would justify this shooting. We will likely hear one in the near future.
On Monday night, Joe Burns was watching the action at the scene with his son Joey and dog Luna.
“Why can’t we be a shining example of how police react?” Burns asked. “Why not be a leader in policing and make something positive out of this?”
Burns, a local block captain, has a family member who is a cop, and he’s done ride-alongs. He knows police have difficult, dangerous jobs. But he, like most of us, can’t understand the frequency of questionable shootings by police.
By Tuesday morning, the national news media had tents set up along 51st Street, like a macabre pop-up circus, signaling this will be an international story for some time. A hard rain had washed the chalk messages away, but a fresh message was scribbled onto the sidewalk. It said simply: “Please change police training.”